The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning
by Frederic G. Kenyon
Title | Preface | Contents | Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | Footnotes |
The year 1844 marks an important epoch in the life of Mrs. Browning. It was in this year that, as a result of the publication of her two volumes of 'Poems,' she won her general and popular recognition as a poetess whose rank was with the foremost of living writers. It was six years since she had published a volume of verse; and in the meanwhile she had been gaining strength and literary experience. She had tried her wings in the pages of popular periodicals. She had profited by the criticisms on her earlier work, and by intercourse with men of letters; and though her defects in literary art were by no means purged away, yet the flights of her inspiration were stronger and more assured. The result is that, although the volumes of 1844 do not contain absolutely her best work—no one with the 'Sonnets from the Portuguese' in his mind can affirm so much as that—they contain that which has been most generally popular, and which won her the position which for the rest of her life she held in popular estimation among the leaders of English poetry.
The principal poem in these two volumes is the 'Drama of Exile.' Of the genesis of this work, Miss Barrett gives the following account in a letter to Home, dated December 28 1843:
'A volume full of manuscripts had been ready for more than a year, when suddenly, a short time ago, when I fancied I had no heavier work than to make copy and corrections, I fell upon a fragment of a sort of masque on "The First Day's Exile from Eden"—or rather it fell upon me, and beset me till I would finish it.'
At one time it was intended to use its name as the title to the two volumes; but this design was abandoned, and they appeared under the simple description of 'Poems, by Elizabeth Barrett Barrett.' The 'Vision of Poets' comes next in length to the 'Drama'; and among the shorter pieces were several which rank among her best work, 'The Cry of the Children,' 'Wine of Cyprus,' 'The Dead Pan,' 'Bertha in the Lane,' 'Crowned and Buried,' 'The Mourning Mother,' and 'The Sleep,' together with such popular favourites as 'Lady Geraldine's Courtship,' 'The Romaunt of the Page,' and 'The Rhyme of the Duchess May.' Since the publication of 'The Seraphim' volume, the new era of poetry had developed itself to a notable extent. Tennyson had published the best of his earlier verse, 'Locksley Hall,' 'Ulysses,' the 'Morte d'Arthur,' 'The Lotus Eaters,' 'A Dream of Fair Women,' and many more; Browning had issued his wonderful series of 'Bells and Pomegranates,' including 'Pippa Passes,' 'King Victor and King Charles,' 'Dramatic Lyrics,' 'The Return of the Druses,' and 'The Blot on the 'Scutcheon'; and it was among company such as this that Miss Barrett, by general consent, now took her place.
To Mrs. Martin
January 8, 1844.
Thank you again and again, my dearest Mrs. Martin, for your flowers, and the verses which gave them another perfume. The 'incense of the heart' lost not a grain of its perfume in coming so far, and not a leaf of the flowers was ruffled, and to see such gorgeous colours all on a sudden at Christmas time was like seeing a vision, and almost made Flush and me rub our eyes. Thank you, dearest Mrs. Martin; how kind of you! The grace of the verses and the brightness of the flowers were too much for me altogether. And when George exclaimed, 'Why, she has certainly laid bare her greenhouse,' I had not a word to say in justification of myself for being the cause of it.
Papa admired the branch of Australian origin so much that he walked all over the house with it. Beautiful it is indeed; but my eyes turn back to the camellias. I do believe that I like to look at a camellia better than at a rose; and then these have a double association....
I meant to write a long letter to you to-day, but Mr. Kenyon has been to see me and cut my time short before post time. You remember, perhaps, how his brother married a German, and, after an exile of many years in Germany, returned last summer to England to settle. Well, he can't bear us any longer! His wife is growing paler and paler with the pressure of English social habits, or rather unsocial habits; and he himself is a German at heart; and besides, being a man of a singularly generous nature, and accustomed to give away in handfuls of silver and gold one-third of every year's income, he dislikes the social obligation of spending it here. So they are going back. Poor Mr. Kenyon! I am full of sympathy with him. This returning to England was a dream of all last year to him. He gave up his house to the new comers, and bought a new one; and talked of the brightness secured to his latter years by the presence of his only remaining near relative; and I see that, for all his effort towards a bright view of the matter, he is disappointed—very. Should you suppose that four hundred pounds in Vienna go as far as a thousand in England? I should never have fancied it.
You shall hear from me, my dearest Mrs. Martin, in another few days; and I send this as it is, just because I am benighted by the post hour, and do not like to pass your kindness with even one day's apparent neglect.
May God bless you and dear Mr. Martin. The kindest wishes for the long slope of coming year, and for the many, I trust, beyond it, belong to you from the deepest of our hearts.
But shall you not be coming—setting out—very soon, before I can write again?
To John Kenyan
I am so sorry, dear Mr. Kenyon, to hear—which I did, last night, for the first time—of your being unwell. I had hoped that to-day would bring a better account, but your note, with its next week prospect, is disappointing. The 'ignominy' would have been very preferable—to us, at least, particularly as it need not have lasted beyond to-day, dear Georgie being quite recovered, and at his law again, and no more symptoms of small-pox in anybody. We should all be well, if it were not for me and my cough, which is better, but I am not quite well, nor have yet been out.
A letter came to me from dear Miss Mitford a few days since, which I had hoped to talk to you about. Some of the subject of it is Mr. Kenyon's 'only fault,' which ought, of course, to be a large one to weigh against the multitudinous ones of other people, but which seems to be: 'He has the habit of walking in without giving notice. He thinks it saves trouble, whereas in a small family, and at a distance from a town, the effect is that one takes care to be provided for the whole time that one expects him, and then, by some exquisite ill luck, on the only day when one's larder is empty, in he comes!' And so, if you have not written to interrupt her in this process of indefinite expectation, the 'only fault' will, in her eyes, grow, as it ought, as large as fifty others.
I do hope, dear Mr. Kenyon, soon to hear that you are better—and well—and that your course of prophecy may not run smooth all through next week.
Very truly yours,
To John Kenyon
Saturday night [about March 1844].
I return Mr. Burges's criticism, which I omitted to talk to you of this morning, but which interested me much in the reading. Do let him understand how obliged to him I am for permitting me to look, for a moment, according to his view of the question. Perhaps my poetical sense is not convinced all through, and certainly my critical sense is not worth convincing, but I am delighted to be able to call by the name of Aeschylus, under the authority of Mr. Burges, those noble electrical lines (electrical for double reasons) which had struck me twenty times as Aeschylean, when I read them among the recognised fragments of Sophocles. You hear Aeschylus's footsteps and voice in the lines. No other of the gods could tread so heavily, or speak so like thundering.
I wrote all this to begin with, hesitating how else to begin. My very dear and kind friend, you understand—do you not?—through an expression which, whether written or spoken, must remain imperfect, to what deep, full feeling of gratitude your kindness has moved me. The good you have done me, and just at the moment when I should have failed altogether without it, and in more than one way, and in a deeper than the obvious degree—all this I know better than you do, and I thank you for it from the bottom of my heart. I shall never forget it, as long as I live to remember anything. The book may fail signally after all—that is another question; but I shall not fail, to begin with, and that I owe to you, for I was falling to pieces in nerves and spirits when you came to help me. I had only enough instinct left to be ashamed, a little, afterwards, of having sent you, in company, too, with Miss Martineau's heroic cheerfulness, that note of weak because unavailing complaint. It was a long compressed feeling breaking suddenly into words. Forgive and forget that I ever so troubled you—no, 'troubled' is not the word for your kindness!—and remember, as I shall do, the great good you have done me.
May God bless you, my dear cousin.
Affectionately yours always,
This note is not to be answered.
I am thinking of writing to Moxon, as there does not seem much to arrange. The type and size of Tennyson's books seem, upon examination, to suit my purpose excellently.
To John Kenyan
March 21, 1844.
No, you never sent me back Miss Martineau's letter, my dear cousin; but you will be sure, or rather Mr. Crabb Robinson will, to find it in some too safe a place; and then I shall have it. In the meantime here are the other letters back again. You will think that I was keeping them for a deposit, a security, till I 'had my ain again,' but I have only been idle and busy together. They are the most interesting that can be, and have quite delighted me. By the way, I, who saw nothing to object to in the 'Life in the Sick Room,' object very much to her argument in behalf of it—an argument certainly founded on a miserable misapprehension of the special doctrine referred to in her letter. There is nothing so elevating and ennobling to the nature and mind of man as the view which represents it raised into communion with God Himself, by the justification and purification of God Himself. Plato's dream brushed by the gate of this doctrine when it walked highest, and won for him the title of 'Divine.' That it is vulgarised sometimes by narrow-minded teachers in theory, and by hypocrites in action, might be an argument (if admitted at all) against all truth, poetry, and music!
On the other hand, I was glad to see the leaning on the Education question; in which all my friends the Dissenters did appear to me so painfully wrong and so unworthily wrong at once.
And Southey's letters! I did quite delight in them! They are more personal than any I ever saw of his; and have more warm every-day life in them.
The particular Paul Pry in question (to come down to my life) never 'intrudes.' It is his peculiarity. And I put the stop exactly where I was bid; and was going to put Gabriel's speech, only—with the pen in my hand to do it—I found that the angel was a little too exclamatory altogether, and that he had cried out, 'O ruined earth!' and 'O miserable angel!' just before, approaching to the habit of a mere caller of names. So I altered the passage otherwise; taking care of your full stop after 'despair.' Thank you, my dear Mr. Kenyon.
Also I sent enough manuscript for the first sheet, and a note to Moxon yesterday, last night, thanking him for his courtesy about Leigh Hunt's poems; and following your counsel in every point. 'Only last night,' you will say! But I have had such a headache—and some very painful vexation in the prospect of my maid's leaving me, who has been with me throughout my illness; so that I am much attached to her, with the best reasons for being so, while the idea of a stranger is scarcely tolerable to me under my actual circumstances.
The 'Palm Leaves' are full of strong thought and good thought—thought expressed excellently well; but of poetry, in the true sense, and of imagination in any, I think them bare and cold—somewhat wintry leaves to come from the East, surely, surely!
May the change of air be rapid in doing you good—the weather seems to be softening on purpose for you. May God bless you, dear Mr. Kenyon; I never can thank you enough. When you return I shall be rustling my 'proofs' about you, to prove my faith in your kindness.
Ever affectionately yours,
To H.S. Boyd
March 22, 1844.
My dearest Mr. Boyd,—I heard that once I wrote three times too long a letter to you; I am aware that nine times too long a silence is scarcely the way to make up for it. Forgive me, however, as far as you can, for every sort of fault. When I once begin to write to you, I do not know how to stop; and I have had so much to do lately as scarcely to know how to begin to write to you. Hence these faults—not quite tears—in spite of my penitence and the quotation.
At last my book is in the press. My great poem (in the modest comparative sense), my 'Masque of Exile' (as I call it at last), consists of some nineteen hundred or two thousand lines, and I call it 'Masque of Exile' because it refers to Lucifer's exile, and to that other mystical exile of the Divine Being which was the means of the return homewards of my Adam and Eve. After the exultation of boldness of composition, I fell into one of my deepest fits of despondency, and at last, at the end of most painful vacillations, determined not to print it. Never was a manuscript so near the fire as my 'Masque' was. I had not even the instinct of applying for help to anybody. In the midst of this Mr. Kenyon came in by accident, and asked about my poem. I told him that I had given it up, despairing of my republic. In the kindest way he took it into his hands, and proposed to carry it home and read it, and tell me his impression. 'You know,' he said, 'I have a prejudice against these sacred subjects for poetry, but then I have another prejudice for you, and one may neutralise the other.' The next day I had a letter from him with the returned manuscript—a letter which I was absolutely certain, before I opened it, would counsel against the publication. On the contrary! His impression is clearly in favour of the poem, and, while he makes sundry criticisms on minor points, he considers it very superior as a whole to anything I ever did before—more sustained, and fuller in power. So my nerves are braced, and I grow a man again; and the manuscript, as I told you, is in the press. Moreover, you will be surprised to hear that I think of bringing out two volumes of poems instead of one, by advice of Mr. Moxon, the publisher. Also, the Americans have commanded an American edition, to come out in numbers, either a little before or simultaneously with the English one, and provided with a separate preface for themselves.
There now! I have told you all this, knowing your kindness, and that you will care to hear of it.
It has given me the greatest concern to hear of dear Annie's illness, and I do hope, both for your sake and for all our sakes, that we may have better news of her before long.
But I don't mean to fall into another scrape to-day by writing too much. May God bless you, my very dear friend!
I am ever your affectionate
To H.S. Boyd
April I, 1844.
My very dear Friend,—Your kind letter I was delighted to receive. You mistake a good deal the capacities in judgment of 'the man.' The 'man' is highly refined in his tastes, and leaning to the classical (I was going to say to your classical, only suddenly I thought of Ossian) a good deal more than I do. He has written satires in the manner of Pope, which admirers of Pope have praised warmly and deservedly. If I had hesitated about the conclusiveness of his judgments, it would have been because of his confessed indisposition towards subjects religious and ways mystical, and his occasional insufficient indulgence for rhymes and rhythms which he calls 'Barrettian.' But these things render his favourable inclination towards my 'Drama of Exile' still more encouraging (as you will see) to my hopes for it.
Still, I do tremble a good deal inwardly when I come to think of what your own thoughts of my poem, and poems in their two-volume development, may finally be. I am afraid of you. You will tell me the truth as it appears to you—upon that I may rely; and I should not wish you to suppress a single disastrous thought for the sake of the unpleasantness it may occasion to me. My own faith is that I have made progress since 'The Seraphim,' only it is too possible (as I confess to myself and you) that your opinion may be exactly contrary to it.
You are very kind in what you say about wishing to have some conversation, as the medium of your information upon architecture, with Octavius—Occy, as we call him. He is very much obliged to you, and proposes, if it should not be inconvenient to you, to call upon you on Friday, with Arabel, at about one o'clock. Friday is mentioned because it is a holiday, no work being done at Mr. Barry's. Otherwise he is engaged every day (except, indeed, Sunday) from nine in the morning to five in the afternoon. May God bless you, dearest Mr. Boyd. I am ever
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
To Mr. Westwood
April 16, 1844.
... Surely, surely, it was not likely I should lean to utilitarianism in the notice on Carlyle, as I remember the writer of that article leans somewhere—I, who am reproached with trans-trans-transcendentalisms, and not without reason, or with insufficient reason.
Oh, and I should say also that Mr. Home, in his kindness, has enlarged considerably in his annotations and reflections on me personally. My being in correspondence with all the Kings of the East, for instance, is an exaggeration, although literary work in one way will bring with it, happily, literary association in others.... Still, I am not a great letter writer, and I don't write 'elegant Latin verses,' as all the gods of Rome know, and I have not been shut up in the dark for seven years by any manner of means. By the way, a barrister said to my barrister brother the other day, 'I suppose your sister is dead?' 'Dead?' said he, a little struck; 'dead?' 'Why, yes. After Mr. Home's account of her being sealed up hermetically in the dark for so many years, one can only calculate upon her being dead by this time.'
Several of the letters to Mr. Boyd which follow refer to that celebrated gift of Cyprus wine which led to the composition of one of Miss Barrett's best known and most quoted poems.
To H.S. Boyd
June 18, 1844.
Thank you, my very dear friend! I write to you drunk with Cyprus. Nothing can be worthier of either gods or demi-gods; and if, as you say, Achilles did not drink of it, I am sorry for him. I suppose Jupiter had it instead, just then—Hebe pouring it, and Juno's ox-eyes bellowing their splendour at it, if you will forgive me that broken metaphor, for the sake of Aeschylus's genius, and my own particular intoxication.
Indeed, there never was, in modern days, such wine. Flush, to whom I offered the last drop in my glass, felt it was supernatural, and ran away. I have an idea that if he had drunk that drop, he would have talked afterwards—either Greek or English.
Never was such wine! The very taste of ideal nectar, only stiller, from keeping. If the bubbles of eternity were on it, we should run away, perhaps, like Flush.
Still, the thought comes to me, ought I to take it from you? Is it right of me? are you not too kind in sending it? and should you be allowed to be too kind? In any case, you must, not think of sending me more than you have already sent. It is more than enough, and I am not less than very much obliged to you.
I have passed the middle of my second volume, and I only hope that critics may say of the rest that it smells of Greek wine. Dearest Mr. Boyd's
To Mr. Westwood
June 28, 1844.
My dear Mr. Westwood,—I have certainly and considerably increased the evidence of my own death by the sepulchral silence of the last few days. But after all I am not dead, not even at heart, so as to be insensible to your kind anxiety, and I can assure you of this, upon very fair authority, neither is the book dead yet. It has turned the corner of the felo de se, and if it is to die, it will be by the critics. The mystery of the long delay, it would not be very easy for me to explain, notwithstanding I hear Mr. Moxon says: 'I suppose Miss Barrett is not in a hurry about her publication;' and I say: 'I suppose Moxon is not in a hurry about the publication.' There may be a little fault on my side, when I have kept a proof a day beyond the hour, or when 'copy' has put out new buds in my hands as I passed it to the printer's. Still, in my opinion, it is a good deal more the fault of Mr. Moxon's not being in a hurry, than in the excessive virtue of my patience, or vice of my indolence. Miss Mitford says, as you do, that she never heard of so slow-footed a book.
To H.S. Boyd
50 Wimpole Street:
Wednesday, August I, 1844 [postmark].
My very dear Friend,—Have you expected to hear from me? and are you vexed with me? I am a little ambitious of the first item—yet hopeful of an escape from the last. If you did but know how I am pressed for time, and how I have too much to do every day, you would forgive me for my negligence; even if you had sent me nectar instead of mountain, and I had neglected laying my gratitude at your feet. Last Saturday, upon its being discovered that my first volume consisted of only 208 pages, and my second of 280 pages, Mr. Moxon uttered a cry of reprehension, and wished to tear me to pieces by his printers, as the Bacchantes did Orpheus. Perhaps you might have heard my head moaning all the way to St. John's Wood! He wanted to tear away several poems from the end of the second volume, and tie them on to the end of the first! I could not and would not hear of this, because I had set my mind on having 'Dead Pan' to conclude with. So there was nothing for it but to finish a ballad poem called 'Lady Geraldine's Courtship,' which was lying by me, and I did so by writing, i.e. composing, one hundred and forty lines last Saturday! I seemed to be in a dream all day! Long lines too—with fifteen syllables in each! I see you shake your head all this way off. Moreover it is a 'romance of the age,' treating of railroads, routes, and all manner of 'temporalities,' and in so radical a temper that I expect to be reproved for it by the Conservative reviews round. By the way, did I tell you of the good news I had from America the third of this month? The 'Drama of Exile' is in the hands of a New York publisher; and having been submitted to various chief critics of the country on its way, was praised loudly and extravagantly. This was, however, by a private reading only. A bookseller at Philadelphia had announced it for publication—he intended to take it up when the English edition reached America; but upon its being represented to him that the New York publisher had proof sheets direct from the author and would give copy money, he abandoned his intention to the other. I confess I feel very much pleased at the kind spirit—the spirit of eager kindness indeed—with which the Americans receive my poetry. It is not wrong to be pleased, I hope. In this country there may be mortifications waiting for me; quite enough to keep my modesty in a state of cultivation. I do not know. I hope the work will be out this week, and then! Did I explain to you that what 'Lady Geraldine's Courtship' was wanted for was to increase the size of the first volume, so as to restore the equilibrium of volumes, without dislocating 'Pan'? Oh, how anxious I shall be to hear your opinion! If you tell me that I have lost my intellects, what in the world shall I do then—what shall I do? My Americans—that is, my Americans who were in at the private reading, and perhaps I myself—are of opinion that I have made great progress since 'The Seraphim.' It seems to me that I have more reach, whether in thought or language. But then, to you it may appear quite otherwise, and I shall be very melancholy if it does. Only you must tell me the precise truth; and I trust to you that you will let me have it in its integrity.
All the life and strength which are in me, seem to have passed into my poetry. It is my pou sto—not to move the world; but to live on in.
I must not forget to tell you that there is a poem towards the end of the second volume, called 'Cyprus Wine,' which I have done myself the honor and pleasure of associating with your name. I thought that you would not be displeased by it, as a proof of grateful regard from me.
Talking of wines, the Mountain has its attraction, but certainly is not to be compared to the Cyprus. You will see how I have praised the latter. Well, now I must say 'good-bye,' which you will praise me for!
Dearest Mr. Boyd's affectionate
P.S.—Nota bene—I wish to forewarn you that I have cut away in the text none of my vowels by apostrophes. When I say 'To efface,' wanting two-syllable measure, I do not write 'T' efface' as in the old fashion, but 'To efface' full length. This is the style of the day. Also you will find me a little lax perhaps in metre—a freedom which is the result not of carelessness, but of conviction, and indeed of much patient study of the great Fathers of English poetry—not meaning Mr. Pope. Be as patient with me as you can. You shall have the volumes as soon as they are ready.
To H.S. Boyd
August 6, 1844.
My very dear Friend,—I cannot be certain, from my recollections, whether I did or did not write to you before, as you suggest; but as you never received the letter and I was in a continual press of different thoughts, the probability is that I did not write. The Cyprus wine in the second vial I certainly did receive; and was grateful to you with the whole force of the aroma of it. And now I will tell you an anecdote.
In the excess of my filial tenderness, I poured out a glass for papa, and offered it to him with my right hand.
'What is this?' said he.
'Taste it,' said I as laconically, but with more emphasis.
He raised it to his lips; and, after a moment, recoiled, with such a face as sinned against Adam's image, and with a shudder of deep disgust.
'Why,' he said, 'what most beastly and nauseous thing is this? Oh,' he said, 'what detestable drug is this? Oh, oh,' he said, 'I shall never, never, get this horrible taste out of my mouth.'
I explained with the proper degree of dignity that 'it was Greek wine, Cyprus wine, and of very great value.'
He retorted with acrimony, that 'it might be Greek, twice over; but that it was exceedingly beastly.'
I resumed, with persuasive argument, that 'it could scarcely be beastly, inasmuch as the taste reminded one of oranges and orange flower together, to say nothing of the honey of Mount Hymettus.'
He took me up with stringent logic, 'that any wine must positively be beastly, which, pretending to be wine, tasted sweet as honey, and that it was beastly on my own showing!' I send you this report as an evidence of a curious opinion. But drinkers of port wine cannot be expected to judge of nectar—and I hold your 'Cyprus' to be pure nectar.
I shall have pleasure in doing what you ask me to do—that is, I will—if you promise never to call me Miss Barrett again. You have often quite vexed me by it. There is Ba—Elizabeth—Elzbeth—Ellie—any modification of my name you may call me by—but I won't be called Miss Barrett by you. Do you understand? Arabel means to carry your copy of my book to you. And I beg you not to fancy that I shall be impatient for you to read the two volumes through. If you ever read them through, it will be a sufficient compliment, and indeed I do not expect that you ever will.
May God bless you, dearest Mr. Boyd.
Your affectionate and grateful
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
The date of this last letter marks, as nearly as need be, the date of publication of Miss Barrett's volumes. The letters which follow deal mainly with their reception, first at the hand of friends, and then by the regular critics. The general verdict of the latter was extremely complimentary. Mr. Chorley, in the 'Athenaeum,' described the volumes as 'extraordinary,' adding that 'between her [Miss Barrett's] poems and the slighter lyrics of most of the sisterhood, there is all the difference which exists between the putting-on of "singing robes" for altar service, and the taking up lute or harp to enchant an indulgent circle of friends and kindred.' In the 'Examiner,' John Forster declared that 'Miss Barrett is an undoubted poetess of a high and fine order as regards the first requisites of her art—imagination and expression.... She is a most remarkable writer, and her volumes contain not a little which the lovers of poetry will never willingly let die,' a phrase then not quite so hackneyed as it has since become. The 'Atlas' asserted that 'the present volumes show extraordinary powers, and, abating the failings of which all the followers of Tennyson are guilty, extraordinary genius.' More influential even than these, 'Blackwood' paid her the compliment of a whole article, criticising her faults frankly, but declaring that 'her poetical merits infinitively outweigh her defects. Her genius is profound, unsullied, and without a flaw.' All agreed in assigning her a high, or the highest, place among the poetesses of England; but, as Miss Barrett herself pointed out, this, in itself, was no great praise.
With regard to individual poems, the critics did not take kindly to the 'Drama of Exile,' and 'Blackwood' in particular criticised it at considerable length, calling it 'the least successful of her works.' The subject, while half challenging comparison with Milton, lends itself only too readily to fancifulness and unreality, which were among the most besetting sins of Miss Barrett's genius. The minor poems were incomparably more popular, and the favourite of all was that masterpiece of rhetorical sentimentality, 'Lady Geraldine's Courtship.' It must have been a little mortifying to the authoress to find this piece, a large part of which had been dashed off at a single heat in order to supply the printers' needs, preferred to others on which she had employed all the labour of her deliberate art; but with the general tone of all the critics she had every reason to be as content as her letters show her to have been. Only two criticisms rankled: the one that she was a follower of Tennyson, the other that her rhymes were slovenly and careless. And these appeared, in varying shapes, in nearly all the reviews.
The former of these allegations is of little weight. Whatever qualities Miss Barrett may have shared with Tennyson, her substantial independence is unquestionable. It is a case rather of coincidence than imitation; or if imitation, it is of a slight and unconscious kind. The second criticism deserves fuller notice, because it is constantly repeated to this day. The following letters show how strongly Miss Barrett protested against it. As she told Horne, with reference to this very subject:
'If I fail ultimately before the public—that is, before the people—for an ephemeral popularity does not appear to me to be worth trying for—it will not be because I have shrunk from the amount of labour, where labour could do anything. I have worked at poetry; it has not been with me reverie, but art.'
That her rhymes were inexact, especially in such poems as 'The Dead Pan,' she did not deny; but her defence was that the inexactness was due to a deliberate attempt to widen the artistic capabilities of the English language. Partly, perhaps, as a result of her acquaintance with Italian literature, she had a marked fondness for disyllabic rhymes; and since pure rhymes of this kind are not plentiful in English, she tried the experiment of using assonances instead. Hence such rhymes as silence and islands, vision and procession, panther and saunter, examples which could be indefinitely multiplied if need were. Now it may be that a writer with a very sensitive ear would not have attempted such an experiment, and it is a fact that public taste has not approved it; but the experiment itself is as legitimate as, say, the metrical experiments in hexameters and hendecasyllabics of Longfellow or Tennyson, and whether approved or not it should be criticised as an experiment, not as mere carelessness. That Mrs. Browning's ear was quite-capable of discerning true rhymes is shown by the fact that she tacitly abandoned her experiment in assonances. Not only in the pure and high art of the 'Sonnets from the Portuguese,' but even in 'Casa Guidi Windows,' the rhetorical and sometimes colloquial tone of which might have been thought to lend itself to such devices, imperfect rhymes occur but rarely not exceeding the limits allowed to himself by every poet who has rhymed given and heaven; and the roll of those who have not done so must be small indeed.
The point has seemed worth dwelling on, because it touches a commonplace of criticism as regards Mrs. Browning; but we may now make way for her own comments on her critics and friends.
To H.S. Boyd
Tuesday, August 13, 1844 [postmark].
My very dear Friend,—I must thank you for the great kindness with which you have responded to a natural expression of feeling on my part, and for all the pleasure of finding you pleased with the inscription of 'Cyprus Wine.' Your note has given me much true pleasure. Yes; if my verses survive me, I should wish them to relate the fact of my being your debtor for many happy hours.
And now I must explain to you that most of the 'incorrectnesses' you speak of may be 'incorrectnesses,' but are not negligences. I have a theory about double rhymes for which—I shall be attacked by the critics, but which I could justify perhaps on high authority, or at least analogy. In fact, these volumes of mine have more double rhymes than any two books of English poems that ever to my knowledge were printed; I mean of English poems not comic. Now, of double rhymes in use, which are perfect rhymes, you are aware how few there are, and yet you are also aware of what an admirable effect in making a rhythm various and vigorous, double rhyming is in English poetry. Therefore I have used a certain licence; and after much thoughtful study of the Elizabethan writers, have ventured it with the public. And do you tell me, you who object to the use of a different vowel in a double rhyme, why you rhyme (as everybody does, without blame from anybody) 'given' to 'heaven,' when you object to my rhyming 'remember' and 'chamber'? The analogy surely is all on my side, and I believe that the spirit of the English language is also.
I write all this because you will find many other sins of the sort, besides those in the 'Cyprus Wine;' and because I wish you to consider the subject as a point for consideration seriously, and not to blame me as a writer of careless verses. If I deal too much in licences, it is not because I am idle, but because I am speculative for freedom's sake. It is possible, you know, to be wrong conscientiously; and I stand up for my conscience only.
I thank you earnestly for your candour hitherto, and I beseech you to be candid to the end.
It is tawny as Rhea's lion.
I know (although you don't say so) you object to that line. Yet consider its structure. Does not the final 'y' of 'tawny' suppose an apostrophe and apocope? Do you not run 'tawny as' into two syllables naturally? I want you to see my principle.
With regard to blank verse, the great Fletcher admits sometimes seventeen syllables into his lines.
I hope Miss Heard received her copy, and that you will not think me arrogant in writing freely to you.
Believe me, I write only freely and not arrogantly; and I am impressed with the conviction that my work abounds with far more faults than you in your kindness will discover, notwithstanding your acumen.
Always your affectionate and grateful
To H.S. Boyd
Wednesday, August 14, 1844 [postmark].
My dearest Mr. Boyd,—I must thank you for the great great pleasure with which I have this moment read your note, the more welcome, as (without hypocrisy) I had worked myself up into a nervous apprehension, from your former one, that I should seem so 'rudis atque incomposita' to you, in consequence of certain licences, as to end by being intolerable. I know what an ear you have, and how you can hear the dust on the wheel as it goes on. Well, I wrote to you yesterday, to beg you to be patient and considerate.
But you are always given to surprise me with abundant kindness—with supererogatory kindness. I believe in that, certainly.
I am very very glad that you think me stronger and more perspicuous. For the perspicuity, I have struggled hard....
Your affectionate and grateful
To Mr. Westwood
50 Wimpole Street: August 22, 1844.
... Thank you for your welcome letter, so kind in its candour, I angry that you should prefer 'The Seraphim'! Angry? No indeed, indeed, I am grateful for 'The Seraphim,' and not exacting for the 'Drama,' and all the more because of a secret obstinate persuasion that the 'Drama' will have a majority of friends in the end, and perhaps deserve to have them. Nay, why should I throw perhapses over my own impressions, and be insincere to you who have honoured me by being sincere? Why should I dissemble my own belief that the 'Drama' is worth two or three 'Seraphims'—my own belief, you know, which is worth nothing, writers knowing themselves so superficially, and having such a natural leaning to their last work. Still, I may say honestly to you, that I have a far more modest value for 'The Seraphim' than your kindness suggests, and that I have seemed to myself to have a clear insight into the fact that that poem was only borne up by the minor poems published with it, from immediate destruction. There is a want of unity in it which vexes me to think of, and the other faults magnify themselves day by day, more and more, in my eyes. Therefore it is not that I care more for the 'Drama,' but I care less for 'The Seraphim.' Both poems fall short of my aspiration and desire, but the 'Drama' seems to me fuller, freer and stronger, and worth the other three times over. If it has anything new, I think it must be something new into which I have lived, for certainly I wrote it sincerely and from an inner impulse. In fact, I never wrote any poem with so much sense of pleasure in the composition, and so rapidly, with continuous flow—from fifty to a hundred lines a day, and quite in a glow of pleasure and impulse all through. Still, you have not been used to see me in blank verse, and there may be something in that. That the poem is full of faults and imperfections I do not in the least doubt. I have vibrated between exultations and despondencies in the correcting and printing of it, though the composition went smoothly to an end, and I am prepared to receive the bastinado to the critical degree, I do assure you. The few opinions I have yet had are all to the effect that my advance on the former publication is very great and obvious, but then I am aware that people who thought exactly the contrary would be naturally backward in giving me their opinion.... Indeed, I thank you most earnestly. Truth and kindness, how rarely do they come together! I am very grateful to you. It is curious that 'Duchess May' is not a favorite of mine, and that I have sighed one or two secret wishes towards its extirpation, but other writers besides yourself have singled it out for praise in private letters to me. There has been no printed review yet, I believe; and when I think of them, I try to think of something else, for with no private friends among the critical body (not that I should desire to owe security in such a matter to private friendship) it is awful enough, this looking forward to be reviewed. Never mind, the ultimate prosperity of the book lies far above the critics, and can neither be mended nor made nor unmade by them.
To John Kenyan
Wednesday morning [August 1844].
I return Mr. Chorley's note, my dear cousin, with thankful thoughts of him—as of you. I wish I could persuade you of the rightness of my view about 'Essays on Mind' and such things, and how the difference between them and my present poems is not merely the difference between two schools, as you seemed to intimate yesterday, nor even the difference between immaturity and maturity; but that it is the difference between the dead and the living, between a copy and an individuality, between what is myself and what is not myself. To you who have a personal interest and—may I say? affection for me, the girl's exercise assumes a factitious value, but to the public the matter is otherwise and ought to be otherwise. And for the 'psychological' side of the question, do observe that I have not reputation enough to suggest a curiosity about my legends. Instead of your 'legendary lore,' it would be just a legendary bore. Now you understand what I mean. I do not underrate Pope nor his school, but I do disesteem everything which, bearing the shape of a book, is not the true expression of a mind, and I know and feel (and so do you) that a girl's exercise written when all the experience lay in books, and the mind was suited rather for intelligence than production, lying like an infant's face with an undeveloped expression, must be valueless in itself, and if offered to the public directly or indirectly as a work of mine, highly injurious to me. Why, of the 'Prometheus' volume, even, you know what I think and desire. 'The Seraphim,' with all its feebleness and shortcomings and obscurities, yet is the first utterance of my own individuality, and therefore the only volume except the last which is not a disadvantage to me to have thought of, and happily for me, the early books, never having been advertised, nor reviewed, except by accident, once or twice, are as safe from the public as manuscript.
Oh, I shudder to think of the lines which might have been 'nicked in,' and all through Mr. Chorley's good nature. As if I had not sins enough to ruin me in the new poems, without reviving juvenile ones, sinned when I knew no better. Perhaps you would like to have the series of epic poems which I wrote from nine years old to eleven. They might illustrate some doctrine of innate ideas, and enrich (to that end) the myths of metaphysicians.
And also agree with me in reverencing that wonderful genius Keats, who, rising as a grand exception from among the vulgar herd of juvenile versifiers, was an individual man from the beginning, and spoke with his own voice, though surrounded by the yet unfamiliar murmur of antique echoes. Leigh Hunt calls him 'the young poet' very rightly. Most affectionately and gratefully yours,
Do thank Mr. Chorley for me, will you?
To Mrs. Martin
Thursday, August 1844.
Thank you, my dearest Mrs. Martin, for your most kind letter, a reply to which should certainly, as you desired, have met you at Colwall; only, right or wrong, I have been flurried, agitated, put out of the way altogether, by Stormie's and Henry's plan of going to Egypt. Ah, now you are surprised. Now you think me excusable for being silent two days beyond my time—yes, and they have gone, it is no vague speculation. You know, or perhaps you don't know, that, a little time back, papa bought a ship, put a captain and crew of his own in it, and began to employ it in his favourite 'Via Lactea' of speculations. It has been once to Odessa with wool, I think; and now it has gone to Alexandria with coals. Stormie was wild to go to both places; and with regard to the last, papa has yielded. And Henry goes too. This was all arranged weeks ago, but nothing was said of it until last Monday to me; and when I heard it, I was a good deal moved of course, and although resigned now to their having their way in it, and their pleasure, which is better than their way, still I feel I have entered a new anxiety, and shall not be quite at ease again till they return....
And now to thank you, my ever-dearest Mrs. Martin, for your kind and welcome letter from the Lakes. I knew quite at the first page, and long before you said a word specifically, that dear Mr. Martin was better, and think that such a scene, even from under an umbrella, must have done good to the soul and body of both of you. I wish I could have looked through your eyes for once. But I suppose that neither through yours, nor through my own, am I ever likely to behold that sight. In the meantime it is with considerable satisfaction that I hear of your failure of Wordsworth, which was my salvation in a very awful sense. Why, if you had done such a thing, you would have put me to the shame of too much honor. The speculation consoles me entirely for your loss in respect to Rydal Hall and its poet. By the way, I heard the other day that Rogers, who was intending to visit him, said, 'It is a bad time of year for it. The god is on his pedestal; and can only give gestures to his worshippers, and no conversation to his friends.' ...
Although you did not find a letter from me on your return to Colwall, I do hope that you found me—viz. my book, which Mr. Burden took charge of, and promised to deliver or see delivered. When you have read it, do let me hear your own and Mr. Martin's true impression; and whether you think it worse or better than 'The Seraphim.' The only review which has yet appeared or had time to appear has been a very kind and cordial one in the 'Athenaeum.' ...
Your ever affectionate
To Mr. Westwood
August 31, 1844.
My dear Mr. Westwood,—I send you the manuscript you ask for, and also my certificate that, although I certainly was once a little girl, yet I never in my life had fair hair, or received lessons when you mention. I think a cousin of mine, now dead, may have done it. The 'Barrett Barrett' seems to specify my family. I have a little cousin with bright fair hair at this moment who is an Elizabeth Barrett (the subject of my 'Portrait'), but then she is a 'Georgiana' besides, and your friend must refer to times past. My hair is very dark indeed, and always was, as long as I remember, and also I have a friend who makes serious affidavit that I have never changed (except by being rather taller) since I was a year old. Altogether, you cannot make a case of identity out, and I am forced to give up the glory of being so long remembered for my cleverness.
You do wrong in supposing me inclined to underrate Mr. Melville's power. He is inclined to High-Churchism, and to such doctrines as apostolical succession, and I, who, am a Dissenter, and a believer in a universal Christianity, recoil from the exclusive doctrine.
But then, that is not depreciatory of his power and eloquence—surely not.
To Mr. Chorley
50 Wimpole Street: Monday.
[About the end of August 1844.]
Dear Mr. Chorley,—Kindnesses are more frequent things with me than gladnesses, but I thank you earnestly for both in the letter I have this moment received. You have given me a quick sudden pleasure which goes deeper (I am very sure) than self-love, for it must be something better than vanity that brings the tears so near the eyes. I thank you, dear Mr. Chorley.
After all, we are not quite strangers. I have had some early encouragement and direction from you, and much earlier (and later) literary pleasures from such of your writings as did not refer to me. I have studied 'Music and Manners' under you, and found an excuse for my love of romance-reading from your grateful fancy. Then, as dear Miss Mitford's friend, you could not help being (however against your will!) a little my acquaintance; and this she daringly promised to make you in reality some day, till I took the fervour for prophecy.
Altogether I am justified, while I thank you as a stranger, to say one more word as a friend, and that shall be the best word—'May God bless you!' The trials with which He tries us all are different, but our faces may be turned towards the end in cheerfulness, for 'to the end He has loved us.' I remain,
Very faithfully, your obliged
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
You may trust me with the secret of your kindness to me. It shall not go farther.
To H.S. Boyd
Monday, September 1, 1844.
My dearest Mr. Boyd,—I thank you for the Cyprus, and also for a still sweeter amreeta—your praise. Certainly to be praised as you praise me might well be supposed likely to turn a sager head than mine, but I feel that (with all my sensitive and grateful appreciation of such words) I am removed rather below than above the ordinary temptations of vanity. Poetry is to me rather a passion than an ambition, and the gadfly which drives me along that road pricks deeper than an expectation of fame could do.
Moreover, there will be plenty of counter-irritation to prevent me from growing feverish under your praises. And as a beginning, I hear that the 'John Bull' newspaper has cut me up with sanguinary gashes, for the edification of its Sabbath readers. I have not seen it yet, but I hear so. The 'Drama' is the particular victim. Do not send for the paper. I will let you have it, if you should wish for it.
One thing is left to me to say. Arabel told you of a letter I had received from a professional critic, and I am sorry that she should have told you so without binding you to secrecy on the point at the same time. In fact, the writer of the letter begged me not to speak of it, and I took an engagement to him not to speak of it. Now it would be very unpleasant to me, and dishonorable to me, if, after entering into this engagement, the circumstance of the letter should come to be talked about. Of course you will understand that I do not object to your having been informed of the thing, only Arabel should have remembered to ask you not to mention again the name of the critic who wrote to me.
May God bless you, my very dear friend. I drink thoughts of you in Cyprus every day.
Your ever affectionate
There is no review in the 'Examiner' yet, nor any continuation in the 'Athenaeum.'
To Mrs. Martin
September 10, 1844.
My dearest Mrs. Martin,—I will not lose a post in assuring you that I was not silent because of any disappointment from your previous letter. I could only feel the kindness of that letter, and this was certainly the chief and uppermost feeling at the time of reading it, and since. Your preference of 'The Seraphim' one other person besides yourself has acknowledged to me in the same manner, and although I myself—perhaps from the natural leaning to last works, and perhaps from a wise recognition of the complete failure of the poem called 'The Seraphim '—do disagree with you, yet I can easily forgive you for such a thought, and believe that you see sufficient grounds for entertaining it. More and more I congratulate myself (at any rate) for the decision I came to at the last moment, and in the face of some persuasions, to call the book 'Poems,' instead of trusting its responsibility to the 'Drama,' by such a title as 'A Drama of Exile, and Poems.' It is plain, as I anticipated, that for one person who is ever so little pleased with the 'Drama,' fifty at least will like the smaller poems. And perhaps they are right. The longer sustaining of a subject requires, of course, more power, and I may have failed in it altogether.
Yes, I think I may say that I am satisfied so far with the aspect of things in relation to the book. You see there has scarcely been time yet to give any except a sanguine or despondent judgment—I mean, there is scarcely room yet for forming a very rational inference of what will ultimately be, without the presentiments of hope or fear. The book came out too late in August for any chance of a mention in the September magazines, and at the dead time of year, when the very critics were thinking more of holiday innocence than of their carnivorous instincts. This will not hurt it ultimately, although it might have hurt a novel. The regular critics will come back to it; and in the meantime the newspaper critics are noticing it all round, with more or less admissions to its advantage. The 'Atlas' is the best of the newspapers for literary notices; and it spoke graciously on the whole; though I do protest against being violently attached to a 'school.' I have faults enough, I know; but it is just to say that they are at least my own. Well, then! It is true that the 'Westminster Review' says briefly what is great praise, and promises to take the earliest opportunity of reviewing me 'at large.' So that with regard to the critics, there seems to be a good prospect. Then I have had some very pleasant private letters—one from Carlyle; an oath from Miss Martineau to give her whole mind to the work and tell me her free and full opinion, which I have not received yet; an assurance from an acquaintance of Mrs. Jameson that she was much pleased. But the letter which pleased me most was addressed to me by a professional critic, personally unknown to me, who wrote to say that he had traced me up, step by step, ever since I began to print, and that my last volumes were so much better than any preceding them, and were such living books, that they restored to him the impulses of his youth and constrained him to thank me for the pleasant emotions they had excited. I cannot say the name of the writer of this letter, because he asked me not to do so, but of course it was very pleasant to read. Now you will not call me vain for speaking of this. I would not speak of it; only I want (you see) to prove to you how faithfully and gratefully I have a trust in your kindness and sympathy. It is certainly the best kindness to speak the truth to me. I have written those poems as well as I could, and I hope to write others better. I have not reached my own ideal; and I cannot expect to have satisfied other people's expectation. But it is (as I sometimes say) the least ignoble part of me, that I love poetry better than I love my own successes in it.
I am glad that you like 'The Lost Bower.' The scene of that poem is the wood above the garden at Hope End.
It is very true, my dearest Mrs. Martin, all that you say about the voyage to Alexandria. And I do not feel the anxiety I thought I should. In fact, I am surprised to feel so little anxiety. Still, when they are at home again, I shall be happier than I am now, that I feel strongly besides.
What I missed most in your first letter was what I do not miss in the second, the good news of dear Mr. Martin. Both he and you are very vainglorious, I suppose, about O'Connell; but although I was delighted on every account at his late victory, or rather at the late victory of justice and constitutional law, he never was a hero of mine and is not likely to become one. If he had been (by the way) a hero of mine, I should have been quite ashamed of him for being so unequal to his grand position as was demonstrated by the speech from the balcony. Such poetry in the position, and such prose in the speech! He has not the stuff in him of which heroes are made. There is a thread of cotton everywhere crossing the silk....
With our united love to both of you,
Ever, dearest Mrs. Martin, most affectionately yours,
To Mrs. Martin
Wednesday [about September 1844].
My dearest Mrs. Martin, ... Did I tell you that Miss Martineau had promised and vowed to me to tell me the whole truth with respect to the poems? Her letter did not come until a few days ago, and for a full month after the publication; and I was so fearful of the probable sentence that my hands shook as they broke the seal. But such a pleasant letter! I have been overjoyed with it. She says that her 'predominant impression is of the originality'—very pleasant to hear. I must not forget, however, to say that she complains of 'want of variety' in the general effect of the drama, and that she 'likes Lucifer less than anything in the two volumes.' You see how you have high backers. Still she talks of 'immense advances,' which consoles me again. In fact, there is scarcely a word to require consolation in her letter, and what did not please me least—nay, to do myself justice, what put all the rest out of my head for some minutes with joy—is the account she gives of herself. For she is better and likely still to be better; she has recovered appetite and sleep, and lost the most threatening symptoms of disease; she has been out for the first time for four years and a half, lying on the grass flat, she says, with my books open beside her day after day. (That does sound vain of me, but I cannot resist the temptation of writing it!) And the means—the means! Such means you would never divine! It is mesmerism. She is thrown into the magnetic trance twice a day; and the progress is manifest; and the hope for the future clear. Now, what do you both think? Consider what a case it is! No case of a weak-minded woman and a nervous affection; but of the most manlike woman in the three kingdoms—in the best sense of man—a woman gifted with admirable fortitude, as well as exercised in high logic, a woman of sensibility and of imagination certainly, but apt to carry her reason unbent wherever she sets her foot; given to utilitarian philosophy and the habit of logical analysis; and suffering under a disease which has induced change of structure and yielded to no tried remedy! Is it not wonderful, and past expectation? She suggests that I should try the means—but I understand that in cases like mine the remedy has done harm instead of good, by over-exciting the system. But her experience will settle the question of the reality of magnetism with a whole generation of infidels. For my own part, I have long been a believer, in spite of papa. Then I have had very kind letters from Mrs. Jameson, the 'Ennuyée' and from Mr. Serjeant Talfourd and some less famous persons. And a poet with a Welsh name wrote to me yesterday to say that he was writing a poem 'similar to my "Drama of Exile,"' and begged me to subscribe to it. Now I tell you all this to make you smile, and because some of it will interest you more gravely. It will prove to dear unjust Mr. Martin that I do not distrust your sympathy. How could he think so of me? I am half vexed that he should think so. Indeed—indeed I am not so morbidly vain. Why, if you had told me that the books were without any sort of value in your eyes, do you imagine that I should not have valued you, reverenced you ever after for your truth, so sacred a thing in friendship? I really believe it would have been my predominant feeling. But you proved your truth without trying me so hardly; I had both truth and praise from you, and surely quite enough, and more than enough, as many would think, of the latter.
My dearest papa left us this morning to go for a few days into Cornwall for the purpose of examining a quarry in which he has bought or is about to buy shares, and he means to strike on for the Land's End and to see Falmouth before he returns. It depresses me to think of his being away; his presence or the sense of his nearness having so much cheering and soothing influence with me; but it will be an excellent change for him, even if he does not, as he expects, dig an immense fortune out of the quarries....
Your affectionate and ever obliged
To Cornelius Mathews
London, 50 Wimpole Street: October 1, 1844.
My dear Mr. Mathews,—I have just received your note, which, on the principle of single sighs or breaths being wafted from Indies to the poles, arrived quite safely, and I was very glad to have it. I shall fall into monotony if I go on to talk of my continued warm sense of your wonderful kindness to me, a stranger according to the manner of men; and, indeed, I have just this moment been writing a note to a friend two streets away, and calling it 'wonderful kindness.' I cannot, however, of course, allow you to run the tether of your impulse and furnish me with the reviews of my books and other things you speak of at your own expense, and I should prefer, if you would have the goodness to give the necessary direction to Messrs. Putnam & Co., that they should send what would interest me to see, together with a note of the pecuniary debt to themselves. I shall like to see the reviews, of course; and that you should have taken the first word of American judgment into your own mouth is a pleasant thought to me, and leaves me grateful. In England I have no reason so far to be otherwise than well pleased. There has not, indeed, been much yet besides newspaper criticisms—except 'Ainsworth's Magazine,' which is benignant!—there has not been time. The monthly reviews give themselves 'pause' in such matters to set the plumes of their dignity, and I am rather glad than otherwise not to have the first fruits of their haste. The 'Atlas,' the best newspaper for literary reviews, excepting always the 'Examiner,' who does not speak yet, is generous to me, and I have reason to be satisfied with others. And our most influential quarterly (after the 'Edinburgh' and right 'Quarterly'), the 'Westminster Review,' promises an early paper with passing words of high praise. What vexed me a little in one or two of the journals was an attempt made to fix me in a school, and the calling me a follower of Tennyson for my habit of using compound words, noun-substantives, which I used to do before I knew a page of Tennyson, and adopted from a study of our old English writers, and Greeks and even Germans. The custom is so far from being peculiar to Tennyson, that Shelley and Keats and Leigh Hunt are all redolent of it, and no one can read our old poets without perceiving the leaning of our Saxon to that species of coalition. Then I have had letters of great kindness from 'Spirits of the Age,' whose praises are so many crowns, and altogether am far from being out of spirits about the prospect of my work. I am glad, however, that I gave the name of 'Poems' to the work instead of admitting the 'Drama of Exile' into the title-page and increasing its responsibility; for one person who likes the 'Drama,' ten like the other poems. Both Carlyle and Miss Martineau select as favorite 'Lady Geraldine's Courtship,' which amuses and surprises me somewhat. In that poem I had endeavoured to throw conventionalities (turned asbestos for the nonce) into the fire of poetry, to make them glow and glitter as if they were not dull things. Well, I shall soon hear what you like best—and worst. I wonder if you have been very carnivorous with me! I tremble a little to think of your hereditary claim to an instrument called the tomahawk. Still, I am sure I shall have to think most, ever as now, of your kindness; and truth must be sacred to all of us, whether we have to suffer or be glad by it. As for Mr. Horne, I cannot answer for what he has received or not received. I had one note from him on silver paper (fear of postage having reduced him to a transparency) from Germany, and that is all, and I did not think him in good spirits in what he said of himself. I will tell him what you have the goodness to say, and something, too, on my own part. He has had a hard time of it with his 'Spirit of the Age;' the attacks on the book here being bitter in the extreme. Your 'Democratic' does not comfort him for the rest, by the way, and, indeed, he is almost past comfort on the subject. I had a letter the other day from Dr. Shelton Mackenzie, whom I do not know personally, but who is about to publish a 'Living Author Dictionary,' and who, by some association, talked of the effeminacy of 'the American poets,' so I begged him to read your poems on 'Man' and prepare an exception to his position. I wish to write more and must not.
Most faithfully yours,
Am I the first with the great and good news for America and England that Harriet Martineau is better and likely to be better? She told me so herself, and attributes the change to the agency of mesmerism.
To H.S. Boyd
October 4, 1844.
My dearest Mr. Boyd,—... As to 'The Lost Bower,' I am penitent about having caused you so much disturbance. I sometimes fancy that a little varying of the accents, though at the obvious expense of injuring the smoothness of every line considered separately, gives variety of cadence and fuller harmony to the general effect. But I do not question that I deserve a great deal of blame on this point as on others. Many lines in 'Isobel's Child' are very slovenly and weak from a multitude of causes. I hope you will like 'The Lost Bower' better when you try it again than you did at first, though I do not, of course, expect that you will not see much to cry out against. The subject of the poem was an actual fact of my childhood.
Oh, and I think I told you, when giving you the history of 'Lady Geraldine's Courtship,' that I wrote the thirteen last pages of it in one day. I ought to have said nineteen pages instead. But don't tell anybody; only keep the circumstance in your mind when you need it and see the faults. Nobody knows of it except you and Mr. Kenyon and my own family for the reason I told you. I sent off that poem to the press piece-meal, as I never in my life did before with any poem. And since I wrote to you I have heard of Mr. Eagles, one of the first writers in 'Blackwood' and a man of very refined taste, adding another name to the many of those who have preferred it to anything in the two volumes. He says that he has read it at least six times aloud to various persons, and calls it a 'beautiful sui generis drama.' On which Mr. Kenyon observes that I am 'ruined for life, and shall be sure never to take pains with any poem again.'
The American edition (did Arabel tell you?) was to be out in New York a week ago, and was to consist of fifteen hundred copies in two volumes, as in England.
She sends you the verses and asks you to make allowances for the delay in doing so. I cannot help believing that if you were better read in Wordsworth you would appreciate him better. Ever since I knew what poetry is, I have believed in him as a great poet, and I do not understand how reasonably there can be a doubt of it. Will you remember that nearly all the first minds of the age have admitted his power (without going to intrinsic evidence), and then say that he can be a mere Grub Street writer? It is not that he is only or chiefly admired by the profanum vulgus, that he is a mere popular and fashionable poet, but that men of genius in this and other countries unite in confessing his genius. And is not this a significant circumstance—significant, at least?...
Believe me, yourself, your affectionate and grateful
How kind you are, far too kind, about the Cyprus wine; I thank you very much.
To Mrs. Martin
October 5, 1844.
My dearest Mrs. Martin,—... Well, papa came back from Cornwall just as I came back to my own room, and he was as pleased with his quarry as I was to have the sight again of his face. During his absence, Henrietta had a little polka (which did not bring the house down on its knees), and I had a transparent blind put up in my open window. There is a castle in the blind, and a castle gate-way, and two walks, and several peasants, and groves of trees which rise in excellent harmony with the fall of my green damask curtains—new, since you saw me last. Papa insults me with the analogy of a back window in a confectioner's shop, but is obviously moved when the sunshine lights up the castle, notwithstanding. And Mr. Kenyon and everybody in the house grow ecstatic rather than otherwise, as they stand in contemplation before it, and tell me (what is obvious without their evidence) that the effect is beautiful, and that the whole room catches a light from it. Well, and then Mr. Kenyon has given me a new table, with a rail round it to consecrate it from Flush's paws, and large enough to hold all my varieties of vanities.
I had another letter from Miss Martineau the other day, and she says she has a 'hat of her own, a parasol of her own,' and that she can 'walk a mile with ease.' What do miracles mean? Miracle or not, however, one thing is certain—it is very joyful; and her own sensations on being removed suddenly from the verge of the prospect of a most painful death—a most painful and lingering death—must be strange and overwhelming.
I hope I may hear soon from you that you had much pleasure at Clifton, and some benefit in the air and change, and that dear Mr. Martin and yourself are both as well as possible. Do you take in 'Punch'? If not, you ought. Mr. Kenyon and I agreed the other day that we should be more willing 'to take our politics' from 'Punch' than from any other of the newspaper oracles. 'Punch' is very generous, and I like him for everything, except for his rough treatment of Louis Philippe, whom I believe to be a great man—for a king. And then, it is well worth fourpence to laugh once a week. I do recommend 'Punch' to you. Douglas Jerrold is the editor, I fancy, and he has a troop of 'wits,' such as Planché, Titmarsh, and the author of 'Little Peddlington,' to support him....
Now I have written enough to tire you, I am sure. May God bless you both! Did you read 'Coningsby,' that very able book, without character, story, or specific teaching? It is well worth reading, and worth wondering over. D'Israeli, who is a man of genius, has written, nevertheless, books which will live longer, and move deeper. But everybody should read 'Coningsby.' It is a sign of the times. Believe me, my dearest Mrs. Martin,
Your very affectionate
To John Kenyon
Tuesday, October 8, 1844.
Thank you, my dearest cousin, for your kind little note, which I run the chance of answering by that Wednesday's post you think you may wait for. So (via your table) I set about writing to you, and the first word, of course, must be an expression of my contentment with the 'Examiner' review. Indeed, I am more than contented—delighted with it. I had some dread, vaguely fashioned, about the 'Examiner'; the very delay looked ominous. And then, I thought to myself, though I did not say, that if Mr. Forster praised the verses on Flush to you, it was just because he had no sympathy for anything else. But it is all the contrary, you see, and I am the more pleased for the want of previous expectation; and I must add that if you were so kind as to be glad of being associated with me by Mr. Forster's reference, I was so human as to be very very glad of being associated with you by the same. Also you shall criticise 'Geraldine' exactly as you like—mind, I don't think it all so rough as the extracts appear to be, and some variety is attained by that playing at ball with the pause, which causes the apparent roughness—still you shall criticise 'Geraldine' exactly as you like. I have a great fancy for writing some day a longer poem of a like class—a poem comprehending the aspect and manners of modern life, and flinching at nothing of the conventional. I think it might be done with good effect. You said once that Tennyson had done it in 'Locksley Hall,' and I half agreed with you. But looking at 'Locksley Hall' again, I find that not much has been done in that way, noble and passionate and full as the poem is in other ways. But there is no story, no manners, no modern allusion, except in the grand general adjuration to the 'Mother-age,' and no approach to the treatment of a conventionality. But Crabbe, as you say, has done it, and Campbell in his 'Theodore' in a few touches was near to do it; but Hayley clearly apprehends the species of poem in his 'Triumphs of Temper' and 'Triumphs of Music,' and so did Miss Seward, who called it the 'poetical novel.' Now I do think that a true poetical novel—modern, and on the level of the manners of the day—might be as good a poem as any other, and much more popular besides. Do you not think so?
I had a letter from dear Miss Mitford this morning, with yours, but I can find nothing in it that you will care to hear again. She complains of the vagueness of 'Coningsby,' and praises the French writers—a sympathy between us, that last, which we wear hidden in our sleeves for the sake of propriety. Not a word of coming to London, though I asked. Neither have I heard again from Miss Martineau....
Ever most affectionately and gratefully yours,
To Mrs. Martin
October 15, 1844.
... Not a word more have I heard from Miss Martineau; and shall not soon, perhaps, as she is commanded not to write, not to read—to do nothing, in fact, except the getting better. I am not, I confess, quite satisfied myself. But she herself appears to be so altogether, and she speaks of 'symptoms having given way,' implying a structural change. Yes, I use the common phrase in respect to mesmerism, and think 'there is something in it.' Only I think, besides, that, if something, there must be a great deal in it. Clairvoyance has precisely the same evidence as the phenomenon of the trance has, and scientific and philosophical minds are recognising all the phenomena as facts on all sides of us. Mr. Kenyon's is the best distinction, and the immense quantity of humbug which embroiders the truth over and over, and round and round, makes it needful: 'I believe in mesmerism, but not in mesmerists.'
We have had no other letter from our Egyptians, but can wait a little longer without losing our patience.
The blind rises in favour, and the ivy would not fall, if it would but live. Alas! I am going to try guano as a last resource. You see, in painting the windows, papa was forced to have it taken down, and the ivy that grows on ruins and oaks is not usually taken down 'for the nonce.' I think I shall have a myrtle grove in two or three large pots inside the window. I have a mind to try it.
I heard twice from dear Mr. Kenyon at Dover, where he was detained by the weather, but not since his entrance into France. Which is grand enough word for the French Majesty itself—'entrance into France.' By the way, I do hope you have some sympathy with me in my respect for the King of the French—that right kingly king, Louis Philippe. If France had borne more liberty, he would not have withheld it, and, for the rest, and in all truly royal qualities, he is the noblest king, according to my idea, in Europe—the most royal king in the encouragement of art and literature, and in the honoring of artists and men of letters. Let a young unknown writer accomplish a successful tragedy, and the next day he sits at the king's table—not in a metaphor, but face to face. See how different the matter is in our court, where the artists are shown up the back stairs, and where no poet (even by the back stairs) can penetrate, unless so fortunate as to be a banker also. What is the use of kings and queens in these days, except to encourage arts and letters? Really I cannot see. Anybody can hunt an otter out of a box—who has nerve enough.
I had a letter from America to-day, and heard that my book was not published there until the fifth of this October. Still, a few copies had preceded the publication, and made way among the critics, and several reviews were in the course of germinating very greenly. Yes, I was delighted with the 'Examiner,' and all the more so from having interpreted the long delay of the notice, the gloomiest manner possible. My friends try to persuade me that the book is making some impression, and I am willing enough to be convinced. Thank you for all your kind sympathy, my dear friend.
Now, do write to me soon again! Have you read Dr. Arnold's Life? I have not, but am very anxious to do so, from the admirable extracts in the 'Examiner' of last Saturday, and also from what I hear of it in other quarters. That Dr. Arnold must have been a man, in the largest and noblest sense. May God bless you, both of you! I think of you, dearest Mrs. Martin, much, and remain
Your very affectionate
To John Kenyon
Saturday, October 29, 1844.
The moral of your letter, my dearest cousin, certainly is that no green herb of a secret will spring up and flourish between you and me.
The loss of Flush was a secret. My aunt's intention of coming to England (for I know not how to explain what she said to you, but by the supposition of an unfulfilled intention!) was a secret. And Mr. Chorley's letter to me was a third secret. All turned into light!
For the last, you may well praise me for discretion. The letter he wrote was pleasanter to me than many of the kindnesses (apart from your own) occasioned by my book—and when you asked me once 'what letters I had received,' if ever a woman deserved to be canonised for her silence, I did! But the effort was necessary—for he particularly desired that I would not mention to 'our common friends' the circumstance of his having written to me; and 'common friends' could only stand for 'Mr. Kenyon and Miss Mitford.' Of course what you tell me, of his liking the poems better still, is delightful to hear; but he reviewed them in the 'Athenaeum' surely! The review we read in the 'Athenaeum' was by his hand—could not be mistaken ...
Well; but Flushie! It is too true that he has been lost—lost and won; and true besides that I was a good deal upset by it meo more; and that I found it hard to eat and sleep as usual while he was in the hands of his enemies. It is a secret too. We would not tell papa of it. Papa would have been angry with the unfortunate person who took Flush out without a chain; and would have kicked against the pricks of the necessary bribing of the thief in order to the getting him back. Therefore we didn't tell papa; and as I had a very bad convenient headache the day my eyes were reddest, I did not see him (except once) till Flush was on the sofa again. As to the thieves, you are very kind to talk daggers at them; and I feel no inclination to say 'Don't.' It is quite too bad and cruel. And think of their exceeding insolence in taking Flush away from this very door, while Arabel was waiting to have the door opened on her return from her walk; and in observing (as they gave him back for six guineas and a half) that they intended to have him again at the earliest opportunity and that then they must have ten guineas! I tell poor Flushie (while he looks very earnestly in my face) that he and I shall be ruined at last, and that I shall have no money to buy him cakes; but the worst is the anxiety! Whether I am particularly silly, or not, I don't know; they say here, that I am; but it seems to me impossible for anybody who really cares for a dog, to think quietly of his being in the hands of those infamous men. And then I know how poor Flushie must feel it. When he was brought home, he began to cry in his manner, whine, as if his heart was full! It was just what I was inclined to do myself—' and thus was Flushie lost and won.'
But we are both recovered now, thank you; and intend to be very prudent for the future. I am delighted to think of your being in England; it is the next best thing to your being in London. In regard to Miss Martineau, I agree with you word for word; but I cannot overcome an additional horror, which you do not express, or feel probably.
There is an excellent refutation of Puseyism in the 'Edinburgh Review'—by whom? and I have been reading besides the admirable paper by Macaulay in the same number. And now I must be done; having resolved to let you hear without a post's delay. Otherwise I might have American news for you, as I hear that a packet has come in.
My brothers arrived in great spirits at Malta, after a three weeks' voyage from Gibraltar; and must now be in Egypt, I think and trust.
May God bless you, my dear cousin.
Most affectionately yours,
To John Kenyan
50 Wimpole Street: November 5, 1844.
Well, but am I really so bad? ' Et tu!' Can you call me careless? Remember all the altering of manuscript and proof—and remember how the obscurities used to fly away before your cloud-compelling, when you were the Jove of the criticisms! That the books (I won't call them our books when I am speaking of the faults) are remarkable for defects and superfluities of evil, I can see quite as well as another; but then I won't admit that ' it comes' of my carelessness, and refusing to take pains. On the contrary, my belief is, that very few writers called ' correct ' who have selected classical models to work from, pay more laborious attention than I do habitually to the forms of thought and expression. ' Lady Geraldine ' was an exception in her whole history. If I write fast sometimes (and the historical fact is that what has been written fastest, has pleased most), l am not apt to print without consideration. I appeal to Philip sober, if I am! My dearest cousin, do remember! As to the faults, I do not think of defending them, be very sure. My consolation is, that I may try to do better in time, if I may talk of time. The worst fault of all, as far as expression goes (the adjective-substantives, whether in prose or verse, I cannot make up my mind to consider faulty), is that kind of obscurity which is the same thing with inadequate expression. Be very sure—try to be very sure—that I am not obstinate and self-opiniated beyond measure. To you in case, who have done so much for me, and who think of me so more than kindly, I feel it to be both duty and pleasure to defer and yield. Still, you know, we could not, if we were ten years about it, alter down the poems to the terms of all these reviewers. You would not desire it, if it were possible. I do not remember that you suggested any change in the verse on Aeschylus. The critic mistakes my allusion, which was to the fact that in the acting of the Eumenides, when the great tragic poet did actually 'frown as the gods did,' women fell down fainting from the benches. I did not refer to the effect of his human countenance 'during composition.' But I am very grateful to the reviewer whoever he may be—very—and with need. See how the 'Sun' shines in response to 'Blackwood' (thank you for sending me that notice), when previously we had had but a wintry rag from the same quarter! No; if I am not spoilt by your kindness, I am not likely to be so by any of these exoteric praises, however beyond what I expected or deserved. And then I am like a bird with one wing broken. Throw it out of the window; and after the first feeling of pleasure in liberty, it falls heavily. I have had moments of great pleasure in hearing whatever good has been thought of the poems; but the feeling of elation is too strong or rather too long for me....
Can it be true that Mr. Newman has at last joined the Church of Rome? If it is true, it will do much to prove to the most illogical minds the real character of the late movement. It will prove what the point of sight is, as by the drawing of a straight line. Miss Mitford told me that he had lately sent a message to a R. Catholic convert from the English Church, to the effect—'you have done a good deed, but not at a right time.' It can but be a question of time, indeed, to the whole party; at least to such as are logical—and honest.... [Unsigned]
To John Kenyan
50 Wimpole Street: November 8, 1844.
Thank you, my dear dear cousin, for the kind thought of sending me Mr. Eagles's letter, and most for your own note. You know we both saw that he couldn't have written the paper in question; we both were poets and prophets by that sign, but I hope he understands that I shall gratefully remember what his intention was. As to his 'friend' who told him that I had 'imitated Tennyson,' why I can only say and feel that it is very particularly provoking to hear such things said, and that I wish people would find fault with my 'metre' in the place of them. In the matter of 'Geraldine' I shall not be puffed up. I shall take to mind what you suggest. Of course, if you find it hard to read, it must be my fault. And then the fact of there being a story to a poem will give a factitious merit in the eyes of many critics, which could not be an occasion of vainglory to the consciousness of the most vainglorious of writers. You made me smile by your suggestion about the aptitude of critics aforesaid for courting Lady Geraldines. Certes—however it may be—the poem has had more attention than its due. Oh, and I must tell you that I had a letter the other day from Mr. Westwood (one of my correspondents unknown) referring to 'Blackwood,' and observing on the mistake about Goethe. 'Did you not mean "fell" the verb,' he said, 'or do I mistake?' So, you see, some people in the world did actually understand what I meant. I am eager to prove that possibility sometimes.
How full of life of mind Mr. Eagles's letter is. Such letters always bring me to think of Harriet Martineau's pestilent plan of doing to destruction half of the intellectual life of the world, by suppressing every mental breath breathed through the post office. She was not in a state of clairvoyance when she said such a thing. I have not heard from her, but you observed what the 'Critic' said of William Howitt's being empowered by her to declare the circumstances of her recovery?
Again and again have I sent for Dr. Arnold's 'Life,' and I do hope to have it to-day. I am certain, by the extracts, besides your opinion, that I shall be delighted with it.
Why shouldn't Miss Martineau's apocalyptic housemaid tell us whether Flush has a soul, and what is its 'future destination'? As to the fact of his soul, I have long had a strong opinion on it. The 'grand peut-être,' to which 'without revelation' the human argument is reduced, covers dog-nature with the sweep of its fringes.
Did you ever read Bulwer's 'Eva, or the Unhappy Marriage'? That is a sort of poetical novel, with modern manners inclusive. But Bulwer, although a poet in prose, writes all his rhythmetical compositions somewhat prosaically, providing an instance of that curious difference which exists between the poetical writer and the poet. It is easier to give the instance than the reason, but I suppose the cause of the rhythmetical impotence must lie somewhere in the want of the power of concentration. For is it not true that the most prolix poet is capable of briefer expression than the least prolix prose writer, or am I wrong?...
Your ever affectionate
To Cornelius Mathews
50 Wimpole Street: November 14, 1844.
My dear Mr. Mathews,—I write to tell you—only that there is nothing to tell—only in guard of my gratitude, lest you should come to think all manner of evil of me and of my supposed propensity to let everything pass like Mr. Horne's copies of the American edition of his work, sub silentio. Therefore I must write, and you are to please to understand that I have not up to this moment received either letter or book by the packet of October 10 which was charged, according to your intimation, with so much. I, being quite out of patience and out of breath with expectation, have repeatedly sent to Mr. Putnam, and he replies with undisturbed politeness that the ship has come in, and that his part and lot in her, together with mine, remain at the disposal of the Custom-house officers, and may remain some time longer. So you see how it is. I am waiting—simply waiting, and it is better to let you know that I am not forgetting instead.
In the meantime, your kindness will be glad to learn of the prosperity of my poems in my own country. I am more than satisfied in my most sanguine hope for them, and a little surprised besides. The critics have been good to me. 'Blackwood' and 'Tait' have this month both been generous, and the 'New Monthly' and 'Ainsworth's Magazine' did what they could. Then I have the 'Examiner' in my favor, and such heads and hearts as are better and purer than the purely critical, and I am very glad altogether, and very grateful, and hope to live long enough to acknowledge, if not to justify, much unexpected kindness. Of course, some hard criticism is mixed with the liberal sympathy, as you will see in 'Blackwood,' but some of it I deserve, even in my own eyes; and all of it I am willing to be patient under. The strange thing is, that without a single personal friend among these critics, they should have expended on me so much 'gentillesse,' and this strangeness I feel very sensitively. Mr. Horne has not returned to England yet, and in a letter which I received from him some fortnight ago he desired to have my book sent to him to Germany, just as if he never meant to return to England again. I answered his sayings, and reiterated, in a way that would make you smile, my information about your having sent the American copies to him. I made my oyez very plain and articulate. He won't say again that he never heard of it—be sure of that. Well, and then Mr. Browning is not in England either, so that whatever you send for him must await his return from the east or the west or the south, wherever he is. The new spirit of the age is a wandering spirit. Mr. Dickens is in Italy. Even Miss Mitford talks of going to France, which is an extreme case for her. Do you never feel inclined to flash across the Atlantic to us, or can you really remain still in one place?
I must not forget to assure you, dear Mr. Mathews, as I may conscientiously do, even before I have looked into or received the 'Democratic Review,' that whatever fault you may find with me, my strongest feeling on reading your article will or must be the sense of your kindness. Of course I do not expect, nor should I wish, that your personal interest in me (proved in so many ways) would destroy your critical faculty in regard to me. Such an expectation, if I had entertained it, would have been scarcely honorable to either of us, and I may assure you that I never did entertain it. No; be at rest about the article. It is not likely that I shall think it 'inadequate.' And I may as well mention in connection with it that before you spoke of reviewing me I (in my despair of Mr. Horne's absence, and my impotency to assist your book) had thrown into my desk, to watch for some opportunity of publication, a review of your 'Poems on Man,' from my own hand, and that I am still waiting and considering and taking courage before I send it to some current periodical. There is a difficulty—there is a feeling of shyness on my part, because, as I told you, I have no personal friend or introduction among the pressmen or the critics, and because the 'Athenaeum,' which I should otherwise turn to first, has already treated of your work, and would not, of course, consent to reconsider an expressed opinion. Well, I shall do it somewhere. Forgive me the appearance of my impotency under a general aspect.
Ah, you cannot guess at the estate of poetry in the eyes of even such poetical English publishers as Mr. Moxon, who can write sonnets himself. Poetry is in their eyes just a desperate speculation. A poet must have tried his public before he tries the publisher—that is, before he expects the publisher to run a risk for him. But I will make any effort you like to suggest for any work of yours; I only tell you how things are. By the way, if I ever told you that Tennyson was ill, I may as rightly tell you now that he is well, again, or was when I last heard of him. I do not know him personally. Also Harriet Martineau can walk five miles a day with ease, and believes in mesmerism with all her strength. Mr. Putnam had the goodness to write and open his reading room to me, who am in prison instead in mine.
May God bless you. Do let me hear from you soon, and believe me ever your friend,
To Mrs. Martin
November 16, 1844.
My dearest Mrs. Martin, ... To-day I perceive in the 'contents' of the new 'Westminster Review' that my poems are reviewed in it, and I hope that you will both be interested enough in my fortunes to read at the library what may be said of them. Did George tell you that he imagined (as I also did) the 'Blackwood' paper to be by Mr. Phillimore the barrister? Well, Mr. Phillimore denies it altogether, has in fact quarrelled with Christopher North, and writes no more for him, so that I am quite at a loss now where to carry my gratitude.
Do write to me soon. I hear that everybody should read Dr. Arnold's 'Life.' Do you know also 'Eō then,' a work of genius? You have read, perhaps, Hewitt's 'Visits to Remarkable Places' in the first series and second; and Mrs. Jameson's 'Visits and Sketches' and 'Life in Mexico.' Do you know the 'Santa Fé Expedition,' and Custine's 'Russia,' and 'Forest Life' by Mrs. Clavers? You will think that my associative process is in a most disorderly state, by all this running up and down the stairs of all sorts of subjects, in the naming of books. I would write a list, more as a list should be written, if I could see my way better, and this will do for a beginning in any case. You do not like romances, I believe, as I do, and then nearly every romance now-a-days sets about pulling the joints of one's heart and soul out, as a process of course. 'Ellen Middleton' (which I have not read yet) is said to be very painful. Do you know Leigh Hunt's exquisite essays called 'The Indicator and Companion' &c., published by Moxon? I hold them at once in delight and reverence. May God bless you both.
I am ever your affectionate
To Mrs. Martin
50 Wimpole Street:
Tuesday, November 26, 1844 [postmark].
My dearest Mrs. Martin,—I thank you much for your little notes; and you know too well how my sympathy answers you, 'as face to face in a glass,' for me to assure you of it here. Your account of yourselves altogether I take to be satisfactory, because I never expected anybody to gain strength very rapidly while in the actual endurance of hard medical discipline. I am glad you have found out a trustworthy adviser at Dover, but I feel nevertheless that you may both trust and hope in Dr. Bright, of whom I heard the very highest praises the other day....
Now really I don't know why I should fancy you to be so deeply interested in Dr. Bright, that all this detail should be necessary. What I do want you to be interested in, is in Miss Martineau's mesmeric experience, for a copy of which, in the last 'Athenaeum,' I have sent ever since yesterday, in the intention of sending it to you. You will admit it to be curious as philosophy, and beautiful as composition; for the rest, I will not answer. Believing in mesmerism as an agency, I hesitate to assent to the necessary connection between Miss Martineau's cure and the power; and also I am of opinion that unbelievers will not very generally become converts through her representations. There is a tone of exaltation which will be observed upon, and one or two sentences are suggestive to scepticism. I will send it to you when I get the number. I understand that an intimate friend of hers (a lady) travelled down from the south of England to Tynemouth, simply to try to prevent the public exposition, but could not prevail. Mr. Milnes has, besides, been her visitor. He is fully a believer, she says, and affirms to having seen the same phenomena in the East, but regards the whole subject with horror. This still appears to be Mrs. Jameson's feeling, as you know it is mine. Mrs. Jameson came again to this door with a note, and overcoming by kindness, was let in on Saturday last; and sate with me for nearly an hour, and so ran into what my sisters call 'one of my sudden intimacies' that there was an embrace for a farewell. Of course she won my affections through my vanity (Mr. Martin will be sure to say, so I hasten to anticipate him) and by exaggerations about my poetry; but really, and although my heart beat itself almost to pieces for fear of seeing her as she walked upstairs, I do think I should have liked her without the flattery. She is very light—has the lightest of eyes, the lightest of complexions; no eyebrows, and what looked to me like very pale red hair, and thin lips of no colour at all. But with all this indecision of exterior the expression is rather acute than soft; and the conversation in its principal characteristics, analytical and examinative; throwing out no thought which is not as clear as glass—critical, in fact, in somewhat of an austere sense. I use 'austere,' of course, in its intellectual relation, for nothing in the world could be kinder, or more graciously kind, than her whole manner and words were to me. She is coming again in two or three days, she says. Yes, and she said of Miss Martineau's paper in the 'Athenaeum,' that she very much doubted the wisdom of publishing it now; and that for the public's sake, if not for her own, Miss M. should have waited till the excitement of recovered health had a little subsided. She said of mesmerism altogether that she was inclined to believe it, but had not finally made up her convictions. She used words so exactly like some I have used myself that I must repeat them, 'that if there was anything in it, there was so much, it became scarcely possible to limit consequences, and the subject grew awful to contemplate.' ...
On Saturday I had some copies of my American edition, which dazzle the English one; and one or two reviews, transatlantically transcendental in 'oilie flatterie.' And I heard yesterday from the English publisher Moxon, and he was 'happy to tell me that the work was selling very well,' and this without an inquiry on my part. To say the truth, I was afraid to inquire. It is good news altogether. The 'Westminster Review' won't be out till next month.
Wordsworth is so excited about the railroad that his wife persuaded him to go away to recover his serenity, but he has returned raging worse than ever. He says that fifty members of Parliament have promised him their opposition. He is wrong, I think, but I also consider that if the people remembered his genius and his age, and suspended the obnoxious Act for a few years, they would be right....
May God bless you both.
Most affectionately yours,
To James Martin
December 10, 1844.
I have been thinking of you, my dear Mr. Martin, more and more the colder it has been, and had made up my mind to write to-day, let me feel as dull as I might. So, the vane only turns to you instead of to dearest Mrs. Martin in consequence of your letter—your letter makes that difference. I should have written to Dover in any case....
You are to know that Miss Martineau's mesmeric experience is only peculiar as being Harriet Martineau's, otherwise it exhibits the mere commonplaces of the agency. You laugh, I see. I wish I could laugh too. I mean, I seriously wish that I could disbelieve in the reality of the power, which is in every way most repulsive to me....
Mrs. Martin is surprised at me and others on account of our 'horror.' Surely it is a natural feeling, and she would herself be liable to it if she were more credulous. The agency seems to me like the shaking of the flood-gates placed by the Divine Creator between the unprepared soul and the unseen world. Then—the subjection of the will and vital powers of one individual to those of another, to the extent of the apparent solution of the very identity, is abhorrent from me. And then (as to the expediency of the matter, and to prove how far believers may be carried) there is even now a religious sect at Cheltenham, of persons who call themselves advocates of the 'third revelation,' and profess to receive their system of theology entirely from patients in the sleep.
In the meantime, poor Miss Martineau, as the consequence of her desire to speak the truth as she apprehends it, is overwhelmed with atrocious insults from all quarters. For my own part I would rather fall into the hands of God than of man, and suffer as she did in the body, instead of being the mark of these cruel observations. But she has singular strength of mind, and calmly continues her testimony.
Miss Mitford writes to me: 'Be sure it is all true. I see it every day in my Jane'—her maid, who is mesmerised for deafness, but not, I believe, with much success curatively. As a remedy, the success has been far greater in the Martineau case than in others. With Miss Mitford's maid, the sleep is, however, produced; and the girl professed, at the third séance, to be able to see behind her.
I am glad I have so much interesting matter to look forward to in the 'Eldon Memoirs' as Pincher's biography. I am only in the first volume. Are English chancellors really made of such stuff? I couldn't have thought it. Pincher will help to reconcile me to the Law Lords perhaps.
And, to turn from Tory legislators, I am vainglorious in announcing to you that the Anti-Corn-Law League has taken up my poems on the top of its pikes as antithetic to 'War and Monopoly.' Have I not had a sonnet from Gutter Lane? And has not the journal called the 'League' reviewed me into the third heaven, high up—above the pure ether of the five points? Yes, indeed. Of course I should be a (magna) chartist for evermore, even without the previous predilection.
And what do you and Mrs. Martin say about O'Connell? Did you read last Saturday's 'Examiner'? Tell her that I welcomed her kind letter heartily, and that this is an answer to both of you. My best love to her always. May God bless you, dear Mr. Martin! Probably I have written your patience to an end. If papa or anybody were in the room, I should have a remembrance for you.
I remain, myself,
To Mrs. Martin
Wednesday [December 1844].
My dearest Mrs. Martin,—Hardly had my letter gone to you yesterday, when your kind present and not et arrived. I thank you for my boots with more than the warmth of the worsted, and feel all their merits to my soul (each sole) while I thank you. A pair of boots or shoes which 'can't be kicked off' is something highly desirable for me, in Wilson's opinion; and this is the first thing which struck her. But the 'great idea' 'à propos des bottes,' which occurred to myself, ought to be unspeakable, like Miss Martineau's great ideas—for I do believe it was—that I needn't have the trouble every morning, now, of putting on my stockings....
My voice is thawing too, with all the rest. If the cold had lasted I should have been dumb in a day or two more, and as it was, I was forced to refuse to see Mrs. Jameson (who had the goodness to come again) because I couldn't speak much above my breath. But I was tolerably well and brave upon the whole. Oh, these murderous English winters. The wonder is, how anybody can live through them....
Did I tell you, or Mr. Martin, that Rogers the poet, at eighty-three or four years of age, bore the bank robbery with the light-hearted bearing of a man 'young and bold,' went out to dinner two or three times the same week, and said witty things on his own griefs. One of the other partners went to bed instead, and was not likely, I heard, to 'get over it.' I felt quite glad and proud for Rogers. He was in Germany last year, and this summer in Paris; but he first went to see Wordsworth at the Lakes.
It is a fine thing when a light burns so clear down into the socket, isn't it? I, who am not a devout admirer of the 'Pleasures of Memory,' do admire this perpetual youth and untired energy; it is a fine thing to my mind. Then, there are other noble characteristics about this Rogers. A common friend said the other day to Mr. Kenyon, 'Rogers hates me, I know. He is always saying bitter speeches in relation to me, and yesterday he said so and so. But,' he continued, 'if I were in distress, there is one man in the world to whom I would go without doubt and without hesitation, at once, and as to a brother, and that man is Rogers.' Not that I would choose to be obliged to a man who hated me; but it is an illustration of the fact that if Rogers is bitter in his words, which we all know he is, he is always benevolent and generous in his deeds. He makes an epigram on a man, and gives him a thousand pounds; and the deed is the truer expression of his own nature. An uncommon development of character, in any case.
May God bless you both!
Your most affectionate
I am going to tell you, in an antithesis, of the popularising of my poems. I had a sonnet the other day from Gutter Lane, Cheapside, and I heard that Count d'Orsay had written one of the stanzas of 'Crowned and Buried' at the bottom of an engraving of Napoleon which hangs in his room. Now I allow you to laugh at my vaingloriousness, and then you may pin it to Mrs. Best's satisfaction in the dedication to Dowager Majesty. By the way—no, out of the way—it is whispered that when Queen Victoria goes to Strathfieldsea (how do you spell it?) she means to visit Miss Mitford, to which rumour Miss Mitford (being that rare creature, a sensible woman) says: 'May God forbid.'
To John Kenyan
Wednesday morning [about December 1844].
I thank you, my dear cousin, and did so silently the day before yesterday, when you were kind enough to bring me the review and write the good news in pencil. I should be delighted to see you (this is to certify) notwithstanding the frost; only my voice having suffered, and being the ghost of itself, you might find it difficult to hear me without inconvenience. Which is for you to consider, and not for me. And indeed the fog, in addition to the cold, makes it inexpedient for anyone to leave the house except upon business and compulsion.
Oh no—we need not mind any scorn which assails Tennyson and us together. There is a dishonor that does honor—and 'this is of it.' I never heard of Barnes.
Were you aware that the review you brought was in a newspaper called the 'League,' and laudatory to the utmost extravagance—praising us too for courage in opposing 'war and monopoly'?—the 'corn ships in the offing' being duly named. I have heard that it is probably written by Mr. Cobden himself, who writes for the journal in question, and is an enthusiast in poetry. If I thought so to the point of conviction, do you know, I should be very much pleased? You remember that I am a sort of (magna) chartist—only going a little farther!
Flush was properly ashamed of himself when he came upstairs again for his most ungrateful, inexplicable conduct towards you; and I lectured him well; and upon asking him to 'promise never to behave ill to you again,' he kissed my hands and wagged his tail most emphatically. It altogether amounted to an oath, I think. The truth is that Flush's nervous system rather than his temper was in fault, and that, in that great cloak, he saw you as in a cloudy mystery. And then, when you stumbled over the bell rope, he thought the world was come to an end. He is not accustomed, you see, to the vicissitudes of life. Try to forgive him and me—for his ingratitude seems to 'strike through' to me; and I am not without remorse.
Ever most affectionately yours,
I inclose Mr. Chorley's note which you left behind you, but which I did not see until just now. You know that I am not ashamed of 'progress.' On the contrary, my only hope is in it. But the question is not there, nor, I think, for the public, except in cases of ripe, established reputations, as I said before.
To Mr. Westwood
(On returning some illustrations of Spenser by Mr. Woods)
December 11, 1844.
... With many thanks, cordial and true, I thank you for the pleasure I have enjoyed in connection with these proofs of genius. To be honest, it is my own personal opinion (I give it to you for as much as it is worth—not much!) that many of the subjects of these drawings are unfit for graphic representation. What we can bear to see in the poet's vision, and sustained on the wings of his divine music, we shrink from a little when brought face to face with, as drawn out in black and white. You will understand what I mean. The horror and terror preponderate in the drawings, and what is sublime in the poet is apt to be extravagant in the artist—and this, not from a deficiency of power in the latter, but from a treading on ground forbidden except to the poet's foot. I may be wrong, perhaps—I do not pretend to be right. I only tell you (as you ask for them) what my impressions are.
I need not say that I wish all manner of success to your friend the artist, and laurels of the weight of gold while of the freshness of grass—alas! an impossible vegetable!—fabulous as the Halcyon!
To H.S. Boyd
Monday, December 24, 1844 [postmark].
My dearest Mr. Boyd,—I wish I had a note from you to-day—which optative aorist I am not sure of being either grammatical or reasonable! Perhaps you have expected to hear from me with more reason....
I fancied that you would be struck by Miss Martineau's lucid and able style. She is a very admirable woman—and the most logical intellect of the age, for a woman. On this account it is that the men throw stones at her, and that many of her own sex throw dirt; but if I begin on this subject I shall end by gnashing my teeth. A righteous indignation fastens on me. I had a note from her the other day, written in a noble spirit, and saying, in reference to the insults lavished on her, that she was prepared from the first for publicity, and ventured it all for the sake of what she considered the truth—she was sustained, she said, by the recollection of Godiva.
Do you remember who Godiva was—or shall I tell you? Think of it—Godiva of Coventry, and peeping Tom. The worst and basest is, that in this nineteenth century there are thousands of Toms to one.
I think, however, myself, and with all my admiration for Miss Martineau, that her statement and her reasonings on it are not free from vagueness and apparent contradictions. She writes in a state of enthusiasm, and some of her expressions are naturally coloured by her mood of mind and nerve.
May this Christmas give you ease and pleasantness, in various ways, my dearest friend! My Christmas wish for myself is to hear that you are well. I cannot bear to think of you suffering. Are the nights better? May God bless you. Shall you not think it a great thing if the poems go into a second edition within the twelvemonth? I am surprised at your not being satisfied. Consider what poetry is, and that four months have not passed since the publication of mine; and that, where poems have to make their way by force of themselves, and not of name nor of fashion, the first three months cannot present the period of the quickest sale. That must be for afterwards. Think of me on Christmas Day, as of one who gratefully loves you.
A passing reference in a previous letter (above, p. 217) has told of the beginning of another friendship, which was to hold a large place in Miss Barrett's later life; and the next letter is the first now extant which was written to this new friend, Anna Jameson. Mrs. Jameson had not at this time written the works on sacred art with which her name is now chiefly associated; but she was already engaged in her long struggle to earn her livelihood by her pen. Her first work, 'The Diary of an Ennuyée' (1826), written before her marriage, had attracted considerable attention. Since then she had written her 'Characteristics of Women,' 'Essays on Shakespeare's Female Characters,' 'Visits and Sketches,' and a number of compilations of less importance. Quite recently she had been engaged to write handbooks to the public and private art galleries of London, and had so embarked on the career of art authorship in which her best work was done.
The beginning and end of the following letter are lost. The subject of it is the long and hostile comment which appeared in the 'Athenaeum' for December 28 on Miss Martineau's letters on mesmerism.
To Mrs. Jameson
[End of December 1844.]
... For the 'Athenaeum,' I have always held it as a journal, first—in the very first rank—both in ability and integrity; and knowing Mr. Dilke is the 'Athenaeum,' I could make no mistake in my estimation of himself. I have personal reasons for gratitude to both him and his journal, and I have always felt that it was honorable to me to have them. Also, I do not at all think that because a woman is a woman, she is on that account to be spared the ordinary risks of the arena in literature and philosophy. I think no such thing. Logical chivalry would be still more radically debasing to us than any other. It is not therefore at all as a Harriet Martineau, but as a thinking and feeling Martineau (now don't laugh), that I hold her to have been hardly used in the late controversy. And, if you don't laugh at that, don't be too grave either, with the thought of your own share and position in the matter; because, as must be obvious to everyone (yourself included), you did everything possible to you to prevent the catastrophe, and no man and no friend could have done better. My brother George told me of his conversation with you at Mr. Lough's, but are you not mistaken in fancying that she blames you, that she is cold with you? I really think you must be. Why, if she is displeased with you she must be unjust, and is she ever unjust? I ask you. I should imagine not, but then, with all my insolence of talking of her as my friend, I only admire and love her at a distance, in her books and in her letters, and do not know her face to face, and in living womanhood at all. She wrote to me once, and since we have corresponded; and as in her kindness she has called me her friend, I leap hastily at an unripe fruit, perhaps, and echo back the word. She is your friend in a completer, or, at least, a more ordinary sense; and indeed it is impossible for me to believe without strong evidence that she could cease to be your friend on such grounds as are apparent. Perhaps she does not write because she cannot contain her wrath against Mr. Dilke (which, between ourselves, she cannot, very well), and respects your connection and regard for him. Is not that a 'peradventure' worth considering? I am sure that you have no right to be uneasy in any case.
And now I do not like to send you this letter without telling you my impression about mesmerism, lest I seem reserved and 'afraid of committing myself,' as prudent people are. I will confess, then, that my impression is in favour of the reality of mesmerism to some unknown extent. I particularly dislike believing it, I would rather believe most other things in the world; but the evidence of the 'cloud of witnesses' does thunder and lightning so in my ears and eyes, that I believe, while my blood runs cold. I would not be practised upon—no, not for one of Flushie's ears, and I hate the whole theory. It is hideous to my imagination, especially what is called phrenological mesmerism. After all, however, truth is to be accepted; and testimony, when so various and decisive, is an ascertainer of truth. Now do not tell Mr. Dilke, lest he excommunicate me.
But I will not pity you for the increase of occupation produced by an increase of such comfort as your mother's and sister's presence must give. What it will be for you to have a branch to sun yourself on, after a long flight against the wind!
To Mr. Chorley
50 Wimpole Street: January 3, 1845.
Dear Mr. Chorley,—I hope it will not be transgressing very much against the etiquette of journalism, or against the individual delicacy which is of more consequence to both of us, if I venture to thank you by one word for the pages which relate to me in your excellent article in the 'New Quarterly.' It is not my habit to thank or to remonstrate with my reviewers, and indeed I believe I may tell you that I never wrote to thank anyone before on these grounds. I could not thank anyone for praising me—I would not thank him for praising me against his conscience; and if he praised me to the measure of his conscience only, I should have little (as far as the praise went) to thank him for. Therefore I do not thank you for the praise in your article, but for the kind cordial spirit which pervades both praise and blame, for the willingness in praising, and for the gentleness in finding fault; for the encouragement without unseemly exaggeration, and for the criticisms without critical scorn. Allow me to thank you for these things and for the pleasure I have received by their means. I am bold to do it, because I hear that you confess the reviewership; and am the bolder, because I recognised your hand in an act of somewhat similar kindness in the 'Athenaeum' at the first appearance of the poems.
While I am writing of the 'New Quarterly,' I take the liberty of making a remark, not of course in relation to myself—I know too well my duty to my judges—but to your view of the Vantage ground of the poetesses of England. It is a strong impression with me that previous to Joanna Baillie there was no such thing in England as a poetess; and that so far from triumphing over the rest of the world in that particular product, we lay until then under the feet of the world. We hear of a Marie in Brittany who sang songs worthy to be mixed with Chaucer's for true poetic sweetness, and in Italy a Vittoria Colonna sang her noble sonnets. But in England, where is our poetess before Joanna Baillie—poetess in the true sense? Lady Winchilsea had an eye, as Wordsworth found out; but the Duchess of Newcastle had more poetry in her—the comparative praise proving the negative position—than Lady Winchilsea. And when you say of the French, that they have only epistolary women and wits, while we have our Lady Mary, why what would Lady Mary be to us but for her letters and her wit? Not a poetess, surely! unless we accept for poetry her graceful vers de société.
Do forgive me if an impulse has carried me too far. It has been long 'a fact,' to my view of the matter, that Joanna Baillie is the first female poet in all senses in England; and I fell with the whole weight of fact and theory against the edge of your article.
I recall myself now to my first intention of being simply, but not silently, grateful to you; and entreating you to pardon this letter too quickly to think it necessary-to answer it....
I remain, very truly yours,
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
To Mr. Chorley
50 Wimpole Street: January 7, 1845.
Dear Mr. Chorley,—You are very good to deign to answer my impertinences, and not to be disgusted by my defamations of 'the grandmothers,' and (to diminish my perversity in your eyes) I am ready to admit at once that we are generally too apt to run into premature classification—the error of all imperfect knowledge; and into unreasonable exclusiveness—the vice of it. We spoil the shining surface of life by our black lines drawn through and through, as if ominously for a game of the fox and goose. For my part, however imperfect my practice may be, I am intimately convinced—and more and more since my long seclusion—that to live in a house with windows on every side, so as to catch both the morning and evening sunshine, is the best and brightest thing we have to do—to say nothing about the justest and wisest. Sympathies are our opportunities of good.
Moreover, I know nothing of your 'sweet mistress Anne.' I never read a verse of hers. Ignorance goes for much, you see, in all our mal-criticisms, and my ignorance goes to this extent. I cannot write to you of your Anglo-American poetess.
Also, in my sweeping speech about the grandmothers, I should have stopped before such instances as the exquisite ballad of 'Auld Robin Gray,' which is attributed to a woman, and the pathetic 'Ballow my Babe,' which tradition calls 'Lady Anne Bothwell's Lament.' I have certain doubts of my own, indeed, in relation to both origins, and with regard to 'Robin Gray' in particular; but doubts are not worthy stuff enough to be taken into an argument, and certainly, therefore, I should have admitted those two ballads as worthy poems before the Joannan aera.
For what I ventured to say otherwise, would you not consent to join our sympathies, and receive the 'choir' (ah! but you are very cunningly subtle in your distinctions; I am afraid I was too simple for you) as agreeable writers of verses sometimes, leaving the word poet alone? Because, you see, what you call the 'bad dispensation' by no means accounts for the want of the faculty of poetry, strictly so called. England has had many learned women, not merely readers but writers of the learned languages, in Elizabeth's time and afterwards—women of deeper acquirements than are common now in the greater diffusion of letters; and yet where were the poetesses? The divine breath which seemed to come and go, and, ere it went, filled the land with that crowd of true poets whom we call the old dramatists—why did it never pass, even in the lyrical form, over the lips of a woman? How strange! And can we deny that it was so? I look everywhere for grandmothers and see none. It is not in the filial spirit I am deficient, I do assure you—witness my reverent love of the grandfathers!
Seriously, I do not presume to enter into argument with you, and this in relation to a critical paper which I admire in so many ways and am grateful for in some; but is not the poet a different man from the cleverest versifier, and is it not well for the world to be taught the difference? The divineness of poetry is far more to me than either pride of sex or personal pride, and, though willing to acknowledge the lowest breath of the inspiration, I cannot the 'powder and patch.' As powder and patch I may, but not as poetry. And though I in turn may suffer for this myself—though I too (anch' io) may be turned out of 'Arcadia,' and told that I am not a poet, still, I should be content, I hope, that the divineness of poetry be proved in my humanness, rather than lowered to my uses.
But you shall not think me exclusive. Of poor L.E.L., for instance, I could write with more praiseful appreciation than you can. It appears to me that she had the gift—though in certain respects she dishonored the art—and her latter lyrics are, many of them, of great beauty and melody, such as, having once touched the ear of a reader, live on in it. I observe in your 'Life of Mrs. Hemans' (shall I tell you how often I have read those volumes?) she (Mrs. H.) never appears, in any given letter or recorded opinion, to esteem her contemporary. The antagonism lay, probably, in the higher parts of Mrs. Hemans's character and mind, and we are not to wonder at it.
It is very pleasant to me to have your approbation of the sonnets on George Sand, on the points of feeling and lightness, on which all my readers have not absolved me equally, I have reason to know. I am more a latitudinarian in literature than it is generally thought expedient for women to be; and I have that admiration for genius, which dear Mr. Kenyon calls my 'immoral sympathy with power;' and if Madame Dudevant is not the first female genius of any country or age, I really do not know who is. And then she has certain noblenesses—granting all the evil and 'perilous stuff'—noblenesses and royalnesses which make me loyal. Do pardon me for intruding all this on you, though you cannot justify me—you, who are occupied beyond measure, and I, who know it! I have been under the delusion, too, during this writing, of having something like a friend's claim to write and be troublesome. I have lived so near your friends that I keep the odour of them! A mere delusion, alas! my only personal right in respect to you being one that I am not likely to forget or waive—the right of being grateful to you.
But so, and looking again at the last words of your letter, I see that you 'wish,' in the kindest of words, 'to do something more for me.' I hope some day to take this 'something more' of your kindness out in the pleasure of personal intercourse; and if, in the meantime, you should consent to flatter my delusion by letting me hear from you now and then, if ever you have a moment to waste and inclination to waste it, why I, on my side, shall always be ready to thank you for the 'something more' of kindness, as bound in the duty of gratitude. In any case I remain
Truly and faithfully yours,
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
To Mr. Chorley
[The beginning of this letter is lost]
... to the awful consideration of the possibility of my reading a novel or caring for the story of it (proh pudor!), that I am probably, not to say certainly, the most complete and unscrupulous romance reader within your knowledge. Never was a child who cared more for 'a story' than I do; never even did I myself, as a child, care more for it than I do. My love of fiction began with my breath, and will end with it; and goes on increasing; and the heights and depths of the consumption which it has induced you may guess at perhaps, but it is a sublime idea from its vastness, and will gain on you but slowly. On my tombstone may be written 'Ci-gît the greatest novel reader in the world,' and nobody will forbid the inscription; and I approve of Gray's notion of paradise more than of his lyrics, when he suggests the new, εις τους αιωνας [eis tous aiônas]. Are you shocked at me? Perhaps so. And you see I make no excuses, as an invalid might. Invalid or not, I should have a romance in a drawer, if not behind a pillow, and I might as well be true and say so. There is the love of literature, which is one thing, and the love of fiction, which is another. And then, I am not fastidious, as Mrs. Hemans was, in her high purity, and therefore the two loves have a race-course clear.
This is a long preface to coming to speak of the 'Improvisatore.' I had sent for it already to the library, and shall dun them for it twice as much for the sake of what you say. Only I hope I may care for the story. I shall try.
And for the rococo, I have more feeling for it, in a sense, than I once had, for, some two years ago, I passed through a long dynasty of French memoirs, which made me feel quite differently about the littlenesses of greatnesses. I measured them all from the heights of the 'tabouret,' and was a good Duchess, in the 'non-natural' meaning, for the moment. Those memoirs are charming of their kind, and if life were cut in filagree paper would be profitable reading to the soul. Do you not think so? And you mean besides, probably, that you care for beauty in detail, which we all should do if our senses were better educated.
So the confession is not a dreadful one, after all, and mine may involve more evil, and would to ninety-nine out of a hundred 'sensible and cultivated people.' Think what Mrs. Ellis would say to the 'Women of England' about me in her fifteenth edition, if she knew!
And do you know that dear Miss Mitford spent this day week with me, notwithstanding the rain?
Very truly yours,
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
I have forgotten what I particularly wished to say—viz. that I never thought of expecting to hear from you. I understand that when you write it is pure grace, and never to be expected. You have too much to do, I understand perfectly.
The east wind seems to be blowing all my letters about to-day; the t's and e's wave like willows. Now if crooked e's mean a 'greenshade' (not taken rurally), what awful significance can have the whole crooked alphabet?
To Mrs. Martin
Saturday, January 1844 [should be 1845].
I must tell you, my dearest Mrs. Martin, Mr. Kenyon has read to me an extract from a private letter addressed by H. Martineau to Moxon the publisher, to the effect that Lord Morpeth was down on his knees in the middle of the room a few nights ago, in the presence of the somnambule J., and conversing with her in Greek and Latin, that the four Miss Liddels were also present, and that they five talked to her during one séance in five foreign languages, viz. Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and German. When the mesmeriser touches the organ of imitation on J.'s head, while the strange tongue is in the course of being addressed to her, she translates into English word for word what is said; but when the organ of language is touched, she simply answers in English what is said.
My 'few words of comment' upon this are, that I feel to be more and more standing on my head—which does not mean, you will be pleased to observe, that I understand.
Well, and how are you both going on? My voice is quite returned; and papa continues, I am sorry to say, to have a bad cold and cough. He means to stay in the house to-day and try what prudence will do.
We have heard from Henry, at Alexandria still, but a few days before sailing, and he and Stormie are bringing home, as a companion to Flushie, a beautiful little gazelle. What do you think of it? I would rather have it than the 'babby,' though the flourish of trumpets on the part of the possessors seems quite in favor of the latter.
And I had a letter from Browning the poet last night, which threw me into ecstasies—Browning, the author of 'Paracelsus,' and king of the mystics.
[The rest of this letter is missing.]
To Mrs. Martin
Saturday, January 1845.
My dearest Mrs. Martin,—I believe our last letters crossed, and we might draw lots for the turn of receiving one, so that you are to take it for supererogatory virtue in me altogether if I begin to write to you as 'at these presents.' But I want to know how you both are, and if your last account may continue to be considered the true one. You have been poising yourself on the equal balance of letters, as weak consciences are apt to do, but I write that you may write, and also, a little, that I may thank you for the kindness of your last letter, which was so very kind.
No, indeed, dearest Mrs. Martin. If I do not say oftener that I have a strong and grateful trust in your affection for me, and therefore in your interest in all that concerns me, it is not that it is less strong and grateful. What I said or sang of Miss Martineau's letter was no consequence of a distrust of you, but of a feeling within myself that for me to show about such a letter was scarcely becoming, and, in the matter of modesty, nowise discreet. I suppose I was writing excuses to myself for showing it to you. I cannot otherwise account for the saying and singing. And, for the rest, nobody can say or sing that I am not frank enough to you—to the extent of telling all manner of nonsense about myself which can only be supposed to be interesting on the ground of your being presupposed to care a little for the person concerned. Now am I not frank enough? And by the way, I send you 'The Seraphim' at last, by this day's railroad.
To prove to you that I had not forgotten you before your letter came, here is the fragment of an unfinished one which I send you, to begin with—an imperfect fossil letter, which no comparative anatomy will bring much sense out of—except the plain fact that you were not forgotten....
From Alexandria we heard yesterday that they sailed from thence on the first of January, and the home passage may be long.
The changes in Mary Minto on account of mesmerism were merely imaginary as far as I can understand. Nobody here observed any change in her. Oh no. These things will be fancied sometimes. That she is an enthusiastic girl, and that the subject took strong hold upon her, is true enough, and not the least in the world—according to my mind—to be wondered at. By the way, I had a letter and the present of a work on mesmerism—Mr. Newnham's—from his daughter, who sent it to me the other day, in the kindest way, 'out of gratitude for my poetry,' as she says, and from a desire that it might do me physical good in the matter of health. I do not at all know her. I wrote to thank her, of course, for the kindness and sympathy which, as she expressed them, quite touched me; and to explain how I did not stand in reach just now of the temptations of mesmerism. I might have said that I shrank nearly as much from these 'temptations' as from Lord Bacon's stew of infant children for the purposes of witchcraft.
Well, then, I am getting deeper and deeper into correspondence with Robert Browning, poet and mystic, and we are growing to be the truest of friends. If I live a little longer shut up in this room, I shall certainly know everybody in the world. Mrs. Jameson came again yesterday, and was very agreeable, but tried vainly to convince me that the 'Vestiges of Creation,' which I take to be one of the most melancholy books in the world, is the most comforting, and that Lady Byron was an angel of a wife. I persisted (in relation to the former clause) in a 'determinate counsel' not to be a fully developed monkey if I could help it, but when Mrs. J. assured me that she knew all the circumstances of the separation, though she could not betray a confidence, and entreated me 'to keep my mind open' on a subject which would one day be set in the light, I stroked down my feathers as well as I could, and listened to reason. You know—or perhaps you do not know—that there are two women whom I have hated all my life long—Lady Byron and Marie Louise. To prove how false the public effigy of the former is, however, Mrs. Jameson told me that she knew nothing of mathematics, nothing of science, and that the element preponderating in her mind is the poetical element—that she cares much for my poetry! How deep in the knowledge of the depths of vanity must Mrs. J. be, to tell me that—now mustn't she? But there was—yes, and is—a strong adverse feeling to work upon, and it is not worked away.
Then, I have seen a copy of a note of Lord Morpeth to H. Martineau, to the effect that he considered the mesmeric phenomena witnessed by him (inclusive, remember, of the languages) to be 'equally beautiful, wonderful, and undeniable' but he is prudent enough to desire that no use should be made of this letter ... And now no more for to-day.
With love to Mr. Martin, ever believe me
To John Kenyan
Saturday, February 8, 1845.
I return to you, dearest Mr. Kenyon, the two numbers of Jerold Douglas's magazine, and I wish 'by that same sign' I could invoke your presence and advice on a letter I received this morning. You never would guess what it is, and you will wonder when I tell you that it offers a request from the Leeds Ladies' Committee, authorised and backed by the London General Council of the League, to your cousin Ba, that she would write them a poem for the Corn Law Bazaar to be holden at Covent Garden next May. Now my heart is with the cause, and my vanity besides, perhaps, for I do not deny that I am pleased with the request so made, and if left to myself I should be likely at once to say 'yes,' and write an agricultural-evil poem to complete the factory-evil poem into a national-evil circle. And I do not myself see how it would be implicating my name with a political party to the extent of wearing a badge. The League is not a party, but 'the meeting of the waters' of several parties, and I am trying to persuade papa's Whiggery that I may make a poem which will be a fair exponent of the actual grievance, leaving the remedy free for the hands of fixed-duty men like him, or free-trade women like myself. As to wearing the badge of a party, either in politics or religion, I may say that never in my life was I so far from coveting such a thing. And then poetry breathes in another outer air. And then there is not an existent set of any-kind-of-politics I could agree with if I tried—I, who am a sort of fossil republican! You shall see the letters when you come. Remember what the 'League' newspaper said of the 'Cry of the Children.'
Ever affectionately yours,
To Miss Commeline
50 Wimpole Street: [February-March 1845].
My dear Miss Commeline,—I do hope that you will allow me to appear to remember you as I never have ceased to do in reality, and at a time when sympathy of friends is generally acceptable, to offer you mine as if I had some right of friendship to do so. And I am encouraged the more to attempt this because I never shall forget that in the hour of the bitterest agony of my life your brother wrote me a letter which, although I did not read it, I was too ill and distracted, I was yet shown the outside of some months afterwards and enabled to appreciate the sympathy fully. Such a kindness could not fail to keep alive in me (if the need of keeping alive were!) the memory of the various kindnesses received by me and mine from all your family, nor fail to excite me to desire to impress upon you my remembrance of you and my regard, and the interest with which I hear of your joys and sorrows whenever they are large enough to be seen from such a distance. Try to believe this of me, dear Miss Commeline, yourself, and let your sisters and your brother believe it also. If sorrow in its reaction makes us think of our friends, let my name come among the list of yours to you, and with it let the thought come that I am not the coldest and least sincere. May God bless and comfort you, I say, with a full heart, knowing what afflictions like yours are and must be, but confident besides that 'we know not what we do' in weeping for the dearest. In our sorrow we see the rough side of the stuff; in our joys the smooth; and who shall say that when the taffeta is turned the most silk may not be in the sorrows? It is true, however, that sorrows are heavy, and that sometimes the conditions of life (which sorrows are) seem hard to us and overcoming, and I believe that much suffering is necessary before we come to learn that the world is a good place to live in and a good place to die in for even the most affectionate and sensitive.
How glad I should be to hear from you some day, when it is not burdensome for you to write at length and fully concerning all of you—of your sister Maria, and of Laura, and of your brother, and of all your occupations and plans, and whether it enters into your dreams, not to say plans, ever to come to London, or to follow the track of your many neighbours across the seas, perhaps....
For ourselves we have the happiness of seeing our dear papa so well, that I am almost justified in fancying happily that you would not think him altered. He has perpetual youth like the gods, and I may make affidavit to your brother nevertheless that we never boiled him up to it. Also his spirits are good and his 'step on the stair' so light as to comfort me for not being able to run up and down them myself. I am essentially better in health, but remain weak and shattered and at the mercy of a breath of air through a crevice; and thus the unusually severe winter has left me somewhat lower than usual without surprising anybody. Henrietta and Arabel are quite well and at home; George on circuit, always obliged by your proffered hospitality; and Charles John and Henry returning from a voyage to Alexandria in papa's own vessel, the 'Statira.' I set you an imperfect example of egotism, and hope that you will double my I's and we's, and kindly trust to me for being interested in yours....
To H.S. Boyd
Saturday, March 3, 1845.
My dearest Friend,—I am aware that I should have written to you before, but the cold weather is apt to disable me and to make me feel idle when it does not do so quite. Now I am going to write about your remarks on the 'Dublin Review.'
Certainly I agree with you that there can be no necessity for explaining anything about the tutorship if you do not kick against the pricks of the insinuation yourself, and especially as I consider that you were in a sense my 'tutor,' inasmuch as I may say, both that nobody ever taught me so much Greek as you, and also that without you I should have probably lived and died without any knowledge of the Greek Fathers. The Greek classics I should have studied by love and instinct; but the Fathers would probably have remained in their sepulchres, as far as my reading them was concerned. Therefore, very gratefully do I turn to you as my 'tutor' in the best sense, and the more persons call you so, the better it is for the pleasures of my gratitude. The review amused me by hitting on the right meaning there, and besides by its percipiency about your remembering me during your travels in the East, and sending me home the Cyprus wine. Some of these reviewers have a wonderful gift at inferences. The 'Metropolitan Magazine' for March (which is to be sent to you when papa has read it) contains a flaming article in my favour, calling me 'the friend of Wordsworth,' and, moreover, a very little lower than the angels. You shall see it soon, and it is only just out, of course, being the March number. The praise is beyond thanking for, and then I do not know whom to thank—I cannot at all guess at the writer.
I have had a kind note from Lord Teynham, whose oblivion I had ceased to doubt, it seemed so proved to me that he had forgotten me. But he writes kindly, and it gave me pleasure to have some sign of recollection, if not of regard, from one whom I consider with unalterable and grateful respect, and shall always, although I am aware that he denies all sympathy to my works and ways in literature and the world. In fact, and to set my poetry aside, he has joined that 'strait sect' of the Plymouth Brethren, and, of course, has straitened his views since we met, and I, by the reaction of solitude and suffering, have broken many bands which held me at that time. He was always straiter than I, and now the difference is immense. For I think the world wider than I once thought it, and I see God's love broader than I once saw it. To the 'Touch not, taste not, handle not' of the strict religionists, I feel inclined to cry, 'Touch, taste, handle, all things are pure.' But I am writing this for you and not for him, and you probably will agree with me, if you think as you used to think, at least.
But I do not agree with you on the League question, nor on the woman question connected with it, only we will not quarrel to-day, and I have written enough already without an argument at the end.
Can you guess what I have been doing lately? Washing out my conscience, effacing the blot on my escutcheon, performing an expiation, translating over again from the Greek the 'Prometheus' of Aeschylus.
Yes, my very dear friend, I could not bear to let that frigid, rigid exercise, called a version and called mine, cold as Caucasus, and flat as the neighbouring plain, stand as my work. A palinodia, a recantation was necessary to me, and I have achieved it. Do you blame me or not? Perhaps I may print it in a magazine, but this is not decided. How delighted I am to think of your being well. It makes me very happy.
Your ever affectionate and grateful
To Mr. Westwood
March 4, 1845.
I reproach myself, dear Mr. W., for my silence, and began to do so before your kind note reminded me of its unkindness. I had indeed my pen in my hand three days ago to write to you, but a cross fate plucked at my sleeve for the ninety-ninth time, and left me guilty. And you do not write to reproach me! You only avenge yourself softly by keeping back all news of your health, and by not saying a word of the effect on you of the winter which has done its spiriting so ungently. Which brings me down to myself. For somebody has been dreaming of me, and dreams, you know, must go by contraries. And how could it be otherwise? Although I am on the whole essentially better—on the whole!—yet the peculiar severity of the winter has acted on me, and the truth is that for the last month, precisely the last month, I have been feeling (off and on, as people say) very uncomfortable. Not that I am essentially worse, but essentially better, on the contrary, only that the feeling of discomfort and trouble at the heart (physically) will come with the fall of the thermometer, and the voice will go!...
And then I have another question to enunciate—will the oracle answer?
Do you know who wrote the article in the 'Metropolitan'? Beseech you, answer me. I have a suspicion, true, that the critics have been supernaturally kind to me, but the kindness of this 'Metropolitan' critic so passes the ordinary limit of kindness, metropolitan or critical, that I cannot but look among my personal friends for the writer of the article. Coming to personal friends, I reject one on one ground and one on another—for one the graciousness is too graceful, and for another the grace almost too gracious. I am puzzled and dizzy with doubt; and—is it you? Answer me, will you? If so, I should owe so much gratitude to you. Suffer me to pay it!—permit the pleasure to me of paying it!—for I know too much of the pleasures of gratitude to be willing to lose one of them.
To John Kenyan
March 6, .
Thank you, dearest Mr. Kenyon—they are very fine. The poetry is in them, rather than in Blair. And now I send them back, and Cunningham and Jerrold, with thanks on thanks; and if you will be kind enough not to insist on my reading the letters to Travis within the 'hour,' they shall wait for the 'Responsibility,' and the two go to you together.
And as to the tiring, it has not been much, and the happy day was well worth being tired for. It is better to be tired with pleasure than with frost; and if I have the last fatigue too, why it is March, and it is the hour of my martyrdom always. But I am not ill—only uncomfortable.
Ah, the 'relenting'! it is rather a bad sign, I am afraid; notwithstanding the subtilty of your consolations; but I stroke down my philosophy, to make it shine, like a cat's back in the dark. The argument from more deserving poets who prosper less is not very comforting, is it? I trow not.
But as to the review, be sure—be very sure that it is not Mr. Browning's. How you could think even of Mr. Browning, surprises me. Now, as for me, I know as well as he does himself that he has had nothing to do with it.
I should rather suspect Mr. Westwood, the author of some fugitive poems, who writes to me sometimes; and the suspicion having occurred to me, I have written to put the question directly. You shall hear, if I hear in reply.
May God bless you always. I have heard from dear Miss Mitford.
Ever affectionately yours,
To H.S. Boyd
March 29, 1845 [postmark].
My dearest Mr. Boyd,—As Arabel has written out for you the glorification of 'Peter of York,' I shall use an edge of the same paper to 'fall on your sense' with my gratitude about the Cyprus wine. Indeed, I could almost upbraid you for sending me another bottle. It is most supererogatory kindness in you to think of such a thing. And I accept it, nevertheless, with thanks instead of remonstrances, and promise you to drink your health in and the spring in together, and the east wind out, if you do not object to it. I have been better for several days, but my heart is not yet very orderly—not being able to recover the veins, I suppose, all in a moment.
For the rest, you always mean what is right and affectionate, and I am not apt to mistake your meanings in this respect. Be indulgent to me as far as you can, when it appears to you that I sink far below your religious standard, as I am sure I must do oftener than you remind me. Also, it certainly does appear, to my mind, that we are not, as Christians, called to the exclusive expression of Christian doctrine, either in poetry or prose. All truth and all beauty and all music belong to God—He is in all things; and in speaking of all, we speak of Him. In poetry, which includes all things, 'the diapason closeth full in God.' I would not lose a note of the lyre, and whatever He has included in His creation I take to be holy subject enough for me. That I am blamed for this view by many, I know, but I cannot see it otherwise, and when you pay your visit to 'Peter of York' and me, and are able to talk everything over, we shall agree tolerably well, I do not doubt.
Ah, what a dream! What a thought! Too good even to come true!
I did not think that you would much like the 'Duchess May;' but among the profanum vulgus you cannot think how successful it has been. There was an account in one of the fugitive reviews of a lady falling into hysterics on the perusal of it, although that was nothing to the gush of tears of which there is a tradition, down the Plutonian cheeks of a lawyer unknown, over 'Bertha in the Lane.' But these things should not make anybody vain. It is the story that has power with people, just what you do not care for!
About the reviews you ask a difficult question; but I suppose the best, as reviews, are the 'Dublin Review,' 'Blackwood,' the 'New Quarterly,' and the last 'American,' I forget the title at this moment, the Whig 'American,' not the Democratic. The most favorable to me are certainly the American unremembered, and the late 'Metropolitan,' which last was written, I hear, by Mr. Charles Grant, a voluminous writer, but no poet. I consider myself singularly happy in my reviews, and to have full reason for gratitude to the profession.
I forgot to say that what the Dublin reviewer did me the honor of considering an Irishism was the expression 'Do you mind' in 'Cyprus Wine.' But he was wrong, because it occurs frequently among our elder English writers, and is as British as London porter.
Now see how you throw me into figurative liquids, by your last Cyprus. It is the true celestial, this last. But Arabel pleased me most by bringing back so good an account of you.
Your ever affectionate and grateful
To John Kenyan
Friday [about January-March 1845].
Dearest Mr. Kenyon,—If your good nature is still not at ease, through doubting about how to make Lizzy happy in a book, you will like to hear perhaps that I have thought of a certain 'Family Robinson Crusoe,' translated from the German, I think, not a Robinson purified, mind, but a Robinson multiplied and compounded. Children like reading it, I believe. And then there is a 'Masterman Ready,' or some name like it, by Captain Marryat, also popular with young readers. Or 'Seaward's Narrative,' by Miss Porter, would delight her, as it did me, not so many years ago.
I mention these books, but know nothing of their price; and only because you asked me, I do mention them. The fact is that she is not hard to please as to literature, and will be delighted with anything.
To-day Mr. Poe sent me a volume containing his poems and tales collected, so now I must write and thank him for his dedication. What is to be said, I wonder, when a man calls you the 'noblest of your sex'? 'Sir, you are the most discerning of yours.' Were you thanked for the garden ticket yesterday? No, everybody was ungrateful, down to Flush, who drinks day by day out of his new purple cup, and had it properly explained how you gave it to him (I explained that), and yet never came upstairs to express to you his sense of obligation.
Affectionately yours always,
To John Kenyan
Saturday [beginning of April 1845].
My dearest Cousin,—After all I/ said to you, said the other day, about Apuleius, and about what couldn't, shouldn't, and mustn't be done in the matter, I ended by trying the unlawful art of translating this prose into verse, and, one after another, have done all the subjects of the Poniatowsky gems Miss Thompson sent the list of, except two, which I am doing and shall finish anon. In the meantime it comes into my head that it is just as well for you to look over my doings, and judge whether anything in them is to the purpose, or at all likely to be acceptable. Especially I am anxious to impress on you that, if I could think for a moment you would hesitate about rejecting the whole in a body, from any consideration for me, I should not merely be vexed but pained. Am I not your own cousin, to be ordered about as you please? And so take notice that I will not bear the remotest approach to ceremony in the matter. What is wrong? what is right? what is too much? those are the only considerations.
Apuleius is florid, which favored the poetical design on his sentences. Indeed he is more florid than I have always liked to make my verses. It is not, of course, an absolute translation, but as a running commentary on the text it is sufficiently faithful.
But probably (I say to myself) you do not want so many illustrations, and all too from one hand?
The two I do not send are 'Psyche contemplating Cupid asleep,' and 'Psyche and the Eagle.'
And I wait to hear how Polyphemus is to look—and also Adonis.
The Magazine goes to you with many thanks. The sonnet is full of force and expression, and I like it as well as ever I did—better even!
Oh—such happy news to-day! The 'Statira' is at Plymouth, and my brothers quite well, notwithstanding their hundred days on the sea! It makes me happy.
Yours most affectionately,
You shall have your 'Radical' almost immediately. I am ashamed. In such haste.
To H.S. Boyd
April 3, 1845.
My very dear Friend,—I have been intending every day to write to tell you that the Cyprus wine is as nectareous as possible, so fit for the gods, in fact, that I have been forced to leave it off as unfit for me; it made me so feverish. But I keep it until the sun shall have made me a little less mortal; and in the meantime recognise thankfully both its high qualities and your kind ones. How delightful it is to have this sense of a summer at hand. Shall I see you this summer, I wonder. That is a question among my dreams.
By the last American packet I had two letters, one from a poet of Massachusetts, and another from a poetess: the he, Mr. Lowell, and the she, Mrs. Sigourney. She says that the sound of my poetry is stirring the 'deep green forests of the New World;' which sounds pleasantly, does it not? And I understand from Mr. Moxon that a new edition will be called for before very long, only not immediately....
Your affectionate and grateful friend,
Arabel and Mr. Hunter talk of paying you a visit some day.
To Mrs. Martin
April 3, 1845.
My dearest Mrs. Martin,—I wrote to you not many days ago, but I must tell you that our voyagers are safe in Sandgate break in 'an ugly hulk' (as poor Stormie says despondingly), suffering three or four days of quarantine agony, and that we expect to see them on Monday or Tuesday in the full bloom of their ill humour. I am happy to think, according to the present symptoms, that the mania for sea voyages is considerably abated. 'Nothing could be more miserable,' exclaims Storm; 'the only comfort of the whole four months is the safety of the beans, tell papa'—and the safety of the beans is rather a Pythagoraean equivalent for four months' vexation, though not a bean of them all should have lost in freshness and value! He could scarcely write, he said, for the chilblains on his hands, and was in utter destitution of shirts and sheets. Oh! I have very good hopes that for the future Wimpole Street may be found endurable.
Well, and you are at once angry and satisfied, I suppose, about Maynooth; just as I am! satisfied with the justice as far as it goes, and angry and disgusted at the hideous shrieks of intolerance and bigotry which run through the country. The dissenters have very nearly disgusted me, what with the Education clamour, and the Presbyterian chapel cry, and now this Maynooth cry; and certainly it is wonderful how people can see rights as rights in their own hands, and as wrongs in the hands of their opposite neighbours. Moreover it seems to me atrocious that we who insist on seven millions of Catholics supporting a church they call heretical, should dare to talk of our scruples (conscientious scruples forsooth!) about assisting with a poor pittance of very insufficient charity their 'damnable idolatry.' Why, every cry of complaint we utter is an argument against the wrong we have been committing for years and years, and must be so interpreted by every honest and disinterested thinker in the world. Of course I should prefer the Irish establishment coming down, to any endowment at all; I should prefer a trial of the voluntary system throughout Ireland; but as it is adjudged on all hands impossible to attempt this in the actual state of parties and countries, why this Maynooth grant and subsequent endowment of the Catholic Church in Ireland seem the simple alternative, obviously and on the first principles of justice. Macaulay was very great, was he not? He appeared to me conclusive in logic and sentiment. The sensation everywhere is extraordinary, I am sorry really to say!
Wordsworth is in London, having been commanded up to the Queen's ball. He went in Rogers's court dress, or did I tell you so the other day? And I hear that the fair Majesty of England was quite 'fluttered' at seeing him. 'She had not a word to say,' said Mrs. Jameson, who came to see me the other day and complained of the omission as 'unqueenly;' but I disagreed with her and thought the being 'fluttered' far the highest compliment. But she told me that a short time ago the Queen confessed she never had read Wordsworth, on which a maid of honour observed, 'That is a pity, he would do your Majesty a great deal of good.' Mrs. Jameson declared that Miss Murray, a maid of honour, very deeply attached to the Queen, assured her (Mrs. J.) of the answer being quite as abrupt as that; as direct, and to the purpose; and no offence intended or received. I like Mrs. Jameson better the more I see her, and with grateful reason, she is so kind. Now do write directly, and let me hear of you [in d]etail. And tell Mr. Martin to make a point of coming home to us, with no grievances but political ones. The Bazaar is to be something sublime in its degree, and I shall have a sackcloth feeling all next week. All the rail carriages will be wound up to radiate into it, I hear, and the whole country is to be shot into the heart of London.
May God bless you.
Your ever affectionate
I hear that Guizot suffers intensely, and that there are fears lest he may sink. Not that the complaint is mortal.
To Mr. Westwood
Wimpole Street: April 9, 1845.
Poor Hood! Ah! I had feared that the scene was closing on him. And I am glad that a little of the poor gratitude of the world is laid down at his door just now to muffle to his dying ear the harsher sounds of life. I forgive much to Sir Robert for the sake of that letter—though, after all, the minister is not high-hearted, or made of heroic stuff.
I am delighted that you should appreciate Mr. Browning's high power—very high, according to my view—very high, and various. Yes, 'Paracelsus' you should have. 'Sordello' has many fine things in it, but, having been thrown down by many hands as unintelligible, and retained in mine as certainly of the Sphinxine literature, with all its power, I hesitate to be imperious to you in my recommendations of it. Still, the book is worth being studied—study is necessary to it, as, indeed, though in a less degree, to all the works of this poet; study is peculiarly necessary to it. He is a true poet, and a poet, I believe, of a large 'future in-rus, about to be.' He is only growing to the height he will attain.
To Mr. Westwood
The sin of Sphinxine literature I admit. Have I not struggled hard to renounce it? Do I not, day by day? Do you know that I have been told that I have written things harder to interpret than Browning himself?—only I cannot, cannot believe it—he is so very hard. Tell me honestly (and although I attributed the excessive good nature of the 'Metropolitan' criticism to you, I know that you can speak the truth truly!) if anything like the Sphinxineness of Browning, you discover in me; take me as far back as 'The Seraphim' volume and answer! As for Browning, the fault is certainly great, and the disadvantage scarcely calculable, it is so great. He cuts his language into bits, and one has to join them together, as young children do their dissected maps, in order to make any meaning at all, and to study hard before one can do it. Not that I grudge the study or the time. The depth and power of the significance (when it is apprehended) glorifies the puzzle. With you and me it is so; but with the majority of readers, even of readers of poetry, it is not and cannot be so.
The consequence is, that he is not read except in a peculiar circle very strait and narrow. He will not die, because the principle of life is in him, but he will not live the warm summer life which is permitted to many of very inferior faculty, because he does not come out into the sun.
Faithfully your friend,
The following letter relates to the controversy raging round Miss Martineau and her mesmerism. Miss Barrett had evidently referred to it in a letter to Mr. Chorley, which has not been preserved.
To Mr. Chorley
50 Wimpole Street: April 28, 1845.
Dear Mr. Chorley,—I felt quite sure that you would take my postscript for a womanish thing, and a little doubtful whether you would not take the whole allusion (in or out of a postscript) for an impertinent thing; but the impulse to speak was stronger than the fear of speaking; and from the peculiarities of my position, I have come to write by impulses just as other people talk by them. Still, if I had known that the subject was so painful to you, I certainly would not have touched on it, strong as my feeling has been about it, and full and undeniable as is my sympathy with our noble-minded friend, both as a woman and a thinker. Not that I consider (of course I cannot) that she has made out anything like a 'fact' in the Tynemouth story—not that I think the evidence offered in any sort sufficient; take it as it was in the beginning and unimpugned—not that I have been otherwise than of opinion throughout that she was precipitate and indiscreet, however generously so, in her mode and time of advocating the mesmeric question; but that she is at liberty as a thinking being (in my mind) to hold an opinion, the grounds of which she cannot yet justify to the world. Do you not think she may be? Have you not opinions yourself beyond what you can prove to others? Have we not all? And because some of the links of the outer chain of a logical argument fail, or seem to fail, are we therefore to have our 'honours' questioned, because we do not yield what is suspended to an inner uninjured chain of at once subtler and stronger formation? For what I venture to object to in the argument of the 'Athenaeum' is the making a moral obligation of an intellectual act, which is the first step and gesture (is it not?) in all persecution for opinion; and the involving of the 'honour' of an opponent in the motion of recantation she is invited to. This I do venture to exclaim against. I do cry aloud against this; and I do say this, that when we call it 'hard,' we are speaking of it softly. Why, consider how it is! The 'Athenaeum' has done quite enough to disprove the proving of the wreck story, and no more at all. The disproving of the proof of the wreck story is indeed enough to disprove the wreck story and to disprove mesmerism itself (as far as the proof of mesmerism depends on the proof of the wreck story, and no farther) with all doubters and undetermined inquirers; but with the very large class of previous believers, this disproof of a proof is a mere accident, and cannot be expected to have much logical consequence. Believing that such things may be as this revelation of a wreck, they naturally are less exacting of the stabilities of the proving process. What we think probable we do not call severely for the proof of. Moreover Miss Martineau is not only a believer in the mysteries of mesmerism (and she wrote to me the other day that in Birmingham, where she is, she has present cognisance of three cases of clairvoyance), but she is a believer in the personal integrity of her witnesses. She has what she has well called an 'incommunicable confidence.' And this, however incommunicable, is sufficiently comprehensible to all persons who know what personal faith is, to place her 'honour,' I do maintain, high above any suspicion, any charge with the breath of man's lips. I am sure you agree with me, dear Mr. Chorley—ah! it will be a comfort and joy together. Dear Miss Mitford and I often quarrel softly about literary life and its toils and sorrows, she against and I in favour of; but we never could differ about the worth and comfort of domestic affection.
Ever sincerely yours,
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
I am delighted to hear of the novel. And the comedy?
To Mr. Chorley
50 Wimpole Street: April 28, 1845.
Dear Mr. Chorley,—... For Miss Martineau, is it not true that she has admitted her wreck story to have no proof? Surely she has. Surely she said that the evidence was incapable, at this point of time, of justification to the exoteric, and that the question had sunk now to one of character, to which her opponent answered that it had always been one of character. And you must admit that the direct and unmitigated manner of depreciating the reputation, not merely of Jane Arrowsmith, but of Mrs. Wynyard, a personal friend of Miss Martineau's to whom she professes great obligations, could not be otherwise than exasperating to a woman of her generous temper, and this just in the crisis of her gratitude for her restoration to life and enjoyment by the means (as she considers it) of this friend. Not that I feel at all convinced of her having been cured by mesmerism; I have told her openly that I doubt it a little, and she is not angry with me for saying so. Also, the wreck story, and (as you suggest) the three new cases of clairvoyance; why, one cannot, you know, give one's specific convictions to general sweeping testimonies, with a mist all round them. Still, I do lean to believing this class of mysteries, and I see nothing more incredible in the apocalypse of the wreck and other marvels of clairvoyance, than in that singular adaptation of another person's senses, which is a common phenomenon of the simple forms of mesmerism. If it is credible that a person in a mesmeric sleep can taste the sourness of the vinegar on another person's palate, I am ready to go the whole length of the transmigration of senses. But after all, except from hearing so much, I am as ignorant as you are, in my own experience. One of my sisters was thrown into a sort of swoon, and could not open her eyelids, though she heard what passed, once or twice or thrice; and she might have been a prophetess by this time, perhaps, if, partly from her own feeling on the subject, and partly from mine, she had not determined never to try the experiment again. It is hideous and detestable to my imagination; as I confessed to you, it makes my blood run backwards; and if I were you, I would not (with the nervous weakness you speak of) throw myself into the way of it, I really would not. Think of a female friend of mine begging me to give her a lock of my hair, or rather begging my sister to 'get it for her,' that she might send it to a celebrated prophet of mesmerism in Paris, to have an oracle concerning me. Did you ever, since the days of the witches, hear a more ghastly proposition? It shook me so with horror, I had scarcely voice to say 'no,' hough I did say it very emphatically at last, I assure you. A lock of my hair for a Parisian prophet? Why, if I had yielded, I should have felt the steps of pale spirits treading as thick as snow all over my sofa and bed, by day and night, and pulling a corresponding lock of hair on my head at awful intervals. I, who was born with a double set of nerves, which are always out of order; the most excitable person in the world, and nearly the most superstitious. I should have been scarcely sane at the end of a fortnight, I believe of myself! Do you remember the little spirit in gold shoe-buckles, who was a familiar of Heinrich Stilling's? Well, I should have had a French one to match the German, with Balzac's superfine boot-polish in place of the buckles, as surely as I lie here a mortal woman.
I congratulate you (amid all cares and anxieties) upon the view of Naples in the distance, but chiefly on your own happy and just estimate of your selected position in life. It does appear to me wonderfully and mournfully wrong, when men of letters, as it is too much the fashion for them to do, take to dishonoring their profession by fruitless bewailings and gnashings of teeth; when, all the time, it must be their own fault if it is not the noblest in the world. Miss Mitford treats me as a blind witness in this case; because I have seen nothing of the literary world, or any other sort of world, and yet cry against her 'pen and ink' cry. It is the cry I least like to hear from her lips, of all others; and it is unworthy of them altogether. On the lips of a woman of letters, it sounds like jealousy (which it cannot be with her), as on the lips of a woman of the world, like ingratitude. Madame Girardin's 'Ecole des Journalistes' deserved Jules Janin's reproof of it; and there is something noble and touching in that feeling of brotherhood among men of letters, which he invokes. I am so glad to hear you say that I am right, glad for your sake and glad for mine. In fact, there is something which is attractive to me, and which has been attractive ever since I was as high as this table, even in the old worn type of Grub Street authors and garret poets. Men and women of letters are the first in the whole world to me, and I would rather be the least among them, than 'dwell in the courts of princes.'
Forgive me for writing so fast and far. Just as if you had nothing to do but to read me. Oh, for patience for the novel.
I am, faithfully yours,
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
To Miss Thomson
50 Wimpole Street: Friday, May 16, 1845 [postmark].
I write one line to thank you, dear Miss Thomson, for your translation (so far too liberal, though true to the spirit of my intention) of my work for your album. How could it not be a pleasure to me to work for you?
As to my using those manuscripts otherwise than in your service, I do not at all think of it, and I wish to say this. Perhaps I do not (also) partake quite your 'divine fury' for converting our sex into Greek scholarship, and I do not, I confess, think it as desirable as you do. Where there is a love for poetry, and thirst for beauty strong enough to justify labour, let these impulses, which are noble, be obeyed; but in the case of the multitude it is different; and the mere fashion of scholarship among women would be a disagreeable vain thing, and worse than vain. You, who are a Greek yourself, know that the Greek language is not to be learnt in a flash of lightning and by Hamiltonian systems, but that it swallows up year after year of studious life. Now I have a 'doxy' (as Warburton called it), that there is no exercise of the mind so little profitable to the mind as the study of languages. It is the nearest thing to a passive recipiency—is it not?—as a mental action, though it leaves one as weary as ennui itself. Women want to be made to think actively: their apprehension is quicker than that of men, but their defect lies for the most part in the logical faculty and in the higher mental activities. Well, and then, to remember how our own English poets are neglected and scorned; our poets of the Elizabethan age! I would rather that my countrywomen began by loving these.
Not that I would blaspheme against Greek poetry, or depreciate the knowledge of the language as an attainment. I congratulate you on it, though I never should think of trying to convert other women into a desire for it. Forgive me.
To think of Mr. Burges's comparing my Nonnus to the right Nonnus makes my hair stand on end, and the truth is I had flattered myself that nobody would take such trouble. I have not much reverence for Nonnus, and have pulled him and pushed him and made him stand as I chose, never fearing that my naughty impertinences would be brought to light. For the rest, I thank you gratefully (and may I respectfully and gratefully thank Miss Bayley?) for the kind words of both of you, both in this letter and as my sister heard them. It is delightful to me to find such grace in the eyes of dearest Mr. Kenyon's friends, and I remain, dear Miss Thomson,
Truly yours, and gladly,
If there should be anything more at any time for me to do, I trust to your trustfulness.
To Miss Thomson
50 Wimpole Street: Monday .
My dear Miss Thomson,—Believe of me that it can only give me pleasure when you are affectionate enough to treat me as a friend; and for the rest, nobody need apologise for taking another into the vineyards—least Miss Bayley and yourself to me. At the first thought I felt sure that there must be a great deal about vines in these Greeks of ours, and am surprised, I confess, in turning from one to another, to find how few passages of length are quotable, and how the images drop down into a line or two. Do you know the passage in the seventh 'Odyssey' where there is a vineyard in different stages of ripeness?—of which Pope has made the most, so I tore up what I began to write, and leave you to him. It is in Alcinous' gardens, and between the first and second hundred lines of the book. The one from the 'Iliad,' open to Miss Bayley's objection, is yet too beautiful and appropriate, I fancy, for you to throw over. Curious it is that my first recollection went from that shield of Achilles to Hesiod's 'Shield of Hercules,' from which I send you a version—leaving out of it what dear Miss Bayley would object to on a like ground with the other:
Some gathered grapes, with reap-hooks in their hands,
While others bore off from the gathering hands
Whole baskets-full of bunches, black and white,
From those great ridges heaped up into fight,
With vine-leaves and their curling tendrils. So
They bore the baskets ...
... Yes! and all were saying
Their jests, while each went staggering in a row
Beneath his grape-load to the piper's playing.
The grapes were purple-ripe. And here, in fine,
Men trod them out, and there they drained the wine.
In the 'Works and Days' Hesiod says again, what is not worth your listening to, perhaps:
And when that Sinus and Orion come
To middle heaven, and when Aurora—she
O' the rosy fingers—looks inquiringly
Full on Arcturus, straightway gather home
The general vintage. And, I charge you, see
All, in the sun and open air, outlaid
Ten days and nights, and five days in the shade.
The sixth day, pour in vases the fine juice—
The gift of Bacchus, who gives joys for use.
Anacreon talks to the point so well that you must forgive him, I think, for being Anacreontic, and take from his hands what is not defiled. The translation you send me does not 'smell of Anacreon,' nor please me. Where did you get it? Would this be at all fresher?
Grapes that wear a purple skin,
Men and maidens carry in,
Brimming baskets on their shoulders,
Which they topple one by one
Down the winepress. Men are holders
Of the place there, and alone
Tread the grapes out, crush them down,
Letting loose the soul of wine—
Praising Bacchus as divine,
With the loud songs called his own!
You are aware of the dresser of the vine in Homer's 'Hymn to Mercury' translated so exquisitely by Shelley, and of a very beautiful single figure in Theocritus besides. Neither probably would suit your purpose. In the 'Pax' of Aristophanes there is an idle 'Chorus' who talks of looking at the vines and watching the grapes ripen, and eating them at last, but there is nothing of vineyard work in it, so I dismiss the whole.
For 'Hector and Andromache,' would you like me to try to do it for you? It would amuse me, and you should not be bound to do more with what I send you than to throw it into the fire if it did not meet your wishes precisely. The same observation applies, remember, to this little sheet, which I have kept—delayed sending—just because I wanted to let you have a trial of my strength on 'Andromache' in the same envelope; but the truth is that it is not begun yet, partly through other occupation, and partly through the lassitude which the cold wind of the last few days always brings down on me. Yesterday I made an effort, and felt like a broken stick—not even a bent one! So wait for a warm day (and what a season we have had! I have been walking up and down stairs and pretending to be quite well), and I will promise to do my best, and certainly an inferior hand may get nearer to touch the great Greek lion's mane than Pope's did.
Will you give my love to dear Miss Bayley? She shall hear from me—and you shall, in a day or two. And do not mind Mr. Kenyon. He 'roars as softly as a sucking dove;' nevertheless he is an intolerant monster, as I half told him the other day.
Believe me, dear Miss Thomson,
To Mr. Westwood
50 Wimpole Street: May 22, 1845.
Did you persevere with 'Sordello'? I hope so. Be sure that we may all learn (as poets) much and deeply from it, for the writer speaks true oracles. When you have read it through, then read for relaxation and recompense the last 'Bell and Pomegranate' by the same poet, his 'Colombo's Birthday,' which is exquisite. Only 'Pippa Passes' I lean to, or kneel to, with the deepest reverence. Wordsworth has been in town, and is gone. Tennyson is still here. He likes London, I hear, and hates Cheltenham, where he resides with his family, and he smokes pipe after pipe, and does not mean to write any more poems. Are we to sing a requiem?
Believe me, faithfully yours,
ELIZABETH BARRETT BARRETT.
To H.S. Boyd
Saturday, July 21, 1845 [postmark].
My very dear Friend,—You are kind to exceeding kindness, and I am as grateful as any of your long-ago kind invitations ever found me. It is something pleasant, indeed, and like a return to life, to be asked by you to spend two or three days in your house, and I thank you for this pleasantness, and for the goodness, on your own part, which induced it. You may be perfectly sure that no Claypon, though he should live in Arcadia, would be preferred by me to you as a host, and I wonder how you could entertain the imagination of such a thing. Mr. Kenyon, indeed, has asked me repeatedly to spend a few hours on a sofa in his house, and, the Regent's Park being so much nearer than you are, I had promised to think of it. But I have not yet found it possible to accomplish even that quarter of a mile's preferment, and my ambition is forced to be patient when I begin to think of St. John's Wood. I am considerably stronger, and increasing in strength, and in time, with a further advance of the summer, I may do 'such things—what they are yet, I know not.' Yes, I know that they relate to you, and that I have a hope, as well as an earnest, affectionate desire, to sit face to face with you once more before this summer closes. Do, in the meantime, believe that I am very grateful to you for your kind, considerate proposal, and that it is not made in vain for my wishes, and that I am not likely willingly 'to spend two or three days' with anybody in the world before I do so with yourself.
Mr. Hunter has not paid us his usual Saturday's visit, and therefore I have no means of answering the questions you put in relation to him. We will ask him about 'times and seasons' when next we see him, and you shall hear.
Did you ever hear much of Robert Montgomery, commonly called Satan Montgomery because the author of 'Satan,' of the 'Omnipresence of the Deity,' and of various poems which pass through edition after edition, nobody knows how or why? I understand that his pew (he is a clergyman) is sown over with red rosebuds from ladies of the congregation, and that the same fair hands have made and presented to him, in the course of a single season, one hundred pairs of slippers. Whereupon somebody said to this Reverend Satan, 'I never knew before, Mr. Montgomery, that you were a centipede'
Dearest Mr. Boyd's affectionate and grateful
Through the summer of 1845, Miss Barrett, as usual, recovered strength, but so slightly that her doctor urged that she should not face the winter in England. Plans were accordingly made for her going abroad, to which the following letters refer, but the scheme ultimately broke down before the prohibition of Mr. Barrett—a prohibition for which no valid reason was put forward, and which, to say the least, bore the colour of unaccountable indifference to his daughter's health and wishes. The matter is of some importance on account of its bearing on the action taken by Miss Barrett in the autumn of the following year.
To Mrs. Martin
Monday, July 29, 1845 [postmark].
My dearest Mrs. Martin,—I am ashamed not to have written before, and yet have courage enough to ask you to write to me as soon as you can. Day by day I have had good intentions enough (the fact is) about writing, to seem to deserve some good deeds from you, which is contrary to all wisdom and reason, I know, but is rather natural, after all. What my deeds have been, you will be apt to ask. Why, all manner of idleness, which is the most interrupting, you know, of all things. The Hedleys have been flitting backwards and forwards, staying, some of them, for a month at a time in London, and then going, and then coming again; and I have had other visitors, few but engrossing 'after their kind.' And I have been getting well—which is a process—going out into the carriage two or three times a week, abdicating my sofa for my armchair, moving from one room to another now and then, and walking about mine quite as well as, and with considerably more complacency than, a child of two years old. Altogether, I do think that if you were kind enough to be glad to see me looking better when you were in London, you would be kind enough to be still gladder if you saw me now. Everybody praises me, and I look in the looking-glass with a better conscience. Also, it is an improving improvement, and will be, until, you know, the last hem of the garment of summer is lost sight of, and then—and then—I must either follow to another climate, or be ill again—that I know, and am prepared for. It is but dreary work, this undoing of my Penelope web in the winter, after the doing of it through the summer, and the more progress one makes in one's web, the more dreary the prospect of the undoing of all these fine silken stitches. But we shall see....
Ever your affectionate
To Mrs. Martin
Tuesday [October 1845].
My dearest Mrs. Martin,—Do believe that I have not been, as I have seemed, perhaps, forgetful of you through this silence. This last proof of your interest and affection for me—in your letter to Henrietta—quite rouses me to speak out my remembrance of you, and I have been remembering you all the time that I did not speak, only I was so perplexed and tossed up and down by doubts and sadnesses as to require some shock from without to force the speech from me. Your verses, in their grace of kindness, and the ivy from Wordsworth's cottage, just made me think to myself that I would write to you before I left England, but when you talk really of coming to see me, why, I must speak! You overcome me with the sense of your goodness to me.
Yet, after all, I will not have you come! The farewells are bad enough which come to us, without our going to seek them, and I would rather wait and meet you on the Continent, or in England again, than see you now, just to part from you. And you cannot guess how shaken I am, and how I cling to every plank of a little calm. Perhaps I am going on the 17th or 20th. Certainly I have made up my mind to do it, and shall do it as a bare matter of duty; and it is one of the most painful acts of duty which my whole life has set before me. The road is as rough as possible, as far as I can see it. At the same time, being absolutely convinced from my own experience and perceptions, and the unhesitating advice of two able medical men (Dr. Chambers, one of them), that to escape the English winter will be everything for me, and that it involves the comfort and usefulness of the rest of my life, I have resolved to do it, let the circumstances of the doing be as painful as they may. If you were to see me you would be astonished to see the work of the past summer; but all these improvements will ebb away with the sun—while I am assured of permanent good if I leave England. The struggle with me has been a very painful one; I cannot enter on the how and wherefore at this moment. I had expected more help than I have found, and am left to myself, and thrown so on my own sense of duty as to feel it right, for the sake of future years, to make an effort to stand by myself as I best can. At the same time, I will not tell you that at the last hour something may not happen to keep me at home. That is neither impossible nor improbable. If, for instance, I find that I cannot have one of my brothers with me, why, the going in that case would be out of the question. Under ordinary circumstances I shall go, and if the experiment of going fails, why, then I shall have had the satisfaction of having tried it, and of knowing that it is God's will which keeps me a prisoner, and makes me a burden. As it is, I have been told that if I had gone years ago I should be well now; that one lung is very slightly affected, but the nervous system absolutely shattered, as the state of the pulse proves. I am in the habit of taking forty drops of laudanum a day, and cannot do with less, that is, the medical man told me that I could not do with less, saying so with his hand on the pulse. The cold weather, they say, acts on the lungs, and produces the weakness indirectly, whereas the necessary shutting up acts on the nerves and prevents them from having a chance of recovering their tone. And thus, without any mortal disease, or any disease of equivalent seriousness, I am thrown out of life, out of the ordinary sphere of its enjoyment and activity, and made a burden to myself and to others. Whereas there is a means of escape from these evils, and God has opened the door of escape, as wide as I see it!
In all ways, for my own happiness's sake I do need a proof that the evil is irremediable. And this proof (or the counter-proof) I am about to seek in Italy.
Dr. Chambers has advised Pisa, and I go in the direct steamer from the Thames to Leghorn. I have good courage, and as far as my own strength goes, sufficient means.
Dearest Mrs. Martin, more than I thought at first of telling you, I have told you. Much beside there is, painful to talk of, but I hope I have determined to do what is right, and that the determination has not been formed ungently, unscrupulously, nor unaffectionately in respect to the feelings of others. I would die for some of those, but there, has been affection opposed to affection.
This in confidence, of course. May God bless both of you! Pray for me, dearest Mrs. Martin. Make up your mind to go somewhere soon—shall you not?—before the winter shuts the last window from which you see the sun.
Dr. Chambers said that he would 'answer for it' that the voyage would rather do me good than harm. Let me suffer sea sickness or not, he said, he would answer for its doing me no harm.
I hope to take Arabel with me, and either Storm or Henry. This is my hope.
Gratefully and affectionately I think of all your kindness and interest. May dear Mr. Martin lose nothing in this coming winter! I shall think of you, and not cease to love you. Moreover, you shall hear again from
Your ever affectionate
To H.S. Boyd
October 27, 1845 [postmark].
My very dear Friend,—It is so long since I wrote that I must write, I must ruffle your thoughts with a little breath from my side. Listen to me, my dear friend. That I have not written has scarcely been my fault, but my misfortune rather, for I have been quite unstrung and overcome by agitation and anxiety, and thought that I should be able to tell you at last of being calmer and happier, but it was all in vain. I do not leave England, my dear friend. It is decided that I remain on in my prison. It was my full intention to go. I considered it to be a clear duty, and I made up my mind to perform it, let the circumstances be ever so painfully like obstacles; but when the moment came it appeared impossible for me to set out alone, and also impossible to take my brother and sister with me without involving them in difficulties and displeasure. Now what I could risk for myself I could not risk for others, and the very kindness with which they desired me not to think of them only made me think of them more, as was natural and just. So Italy is given up, and I fall back into the hands of God, who is merciful, trusting Him with the time that shall be.
Arabel would have gone to tell you all this a fortnight since, but one of my brothers has been ill with fever which was not exactly typhus, but of the typhoid character, and we knew that you would rather not see her under the circumstances. He is very much better (it is Octavius), and has been out of bed to-day and yesterday.
Do not reproach me either for not writing or for not going, my very dear friend. I have been too heavy-hearted for words; and as to the deeds, you would not have wished me to lead others into difficulties, the extent and result of which no one could calculate. It would not have been just of me.
And you, how are you, and what are you doing?
May God bless you, my dear dear friend!
Ever yours I am, affectionately and gratefully,
To Mr. Chorley
50 Wimpole Street: November 1845.
I must trouble you with another letter of thanks, dear Mr. Chorley, now that I have to thank you for the value of the work as well as the kindness of the gift, for I have read your three volumes of 'Pomfret' with interest and moral assent, and with great pleasure in various ways: it is a pure, true book without effort, which, in these days of gesture and rolling of the eyes, is an uncommon thing. Also you make your 'private judgment' work itself out quietly as a simple part of the love of truth, instead of being the loud heroic virtue it is so apt in real life to profess itself, seldom moving without drums and trumpets and the flying of party colours. All these you have put down rightly, wisely, and boldly, and it was, in my mind, no less wise than bold of you to let in that odour of Tyrrwhitism into the folds of the purple, and so prevent the very possibility of any 'prestige.' If I complained it might be that your 'private judgment' confines its reference to 'public opinion,' and shuns, too proudly perhaps, the higher and deeper relations of human responsibility. But there are difficulties, I see, and you choose your path advisedly, of course. The best character in the book I take to be Rose; I cannot hesitate in selecting him. He is so lifelike with the world's conventional life that you hear his footsteps when he walks, and, indeed, I think his boots were apt to creak just the soupçon of a creak, just as a gentleman's boots might, and he is excellently consistent, even down to the choice of a wife whom he could patronise. I hope you like your own Mr. Rose, and that you will forgive me for jilting Grace for Helena, which I could not help any more than Walter could. But now, may I venture to ask a question? Would it not have been wise of you if, on the point of reserve, you had thrown a deeper shade of opposition into the characters or rather manners of these women? Helena sits like a statue (and could Grace have done more?) when she wins Walter's heart in Italy. Afterwards, and by fits at the time, indeed, the artist fire bursts from her, but there was a great deal of smouldering when there should have been a clear heat to justify Walter's change of feeling. And then, in respect to that, do you really think that your Grace was generous, heroic (with the evidence she had of the change) in giving up her engagement? For her own sake, could she have done otherwise? I fancy not; the position seems surrounded by its own necessities, and no room for a doubt. I write on my own doubts, you see, and you will smile at them, or understand all through them that if the book had not interested me like a piece of real life, I should not find myself backbiting as if all these were 'my neighbours.' The pure tender feeling of the closing scenes touched me to better purpose, believe me, and I applaud from my heart and conscience your rejection of that low creed of 'poetical justice' which is neither justice nor poetry which is as degrading to virtue as false to experience, and which, thrown from your book, raises it into a pure atmosphere at once.
I could go on talking, but remind myself (I do hope in time) that I might show my gratitude better. With sincere wishes for the success of the work (for just see how practically we come to trust to poetical justices after all our theories—I, I mean, and mine!), and with respect and esteem for the writer,
I remain very truly yours,
ELIZABETH BARRETT BARRETT.
To Mrs. Jameson
50 Wimpole Street: December 1, 1845.
My dear Mrs. Jameson,—I receive your letter, as I must do every sign of your being near and inclined to think of me in kindness, gladly, and assure you at once that whenever you can spend a half-hour on me you will find me enough myself to have a true pleasure in welcoming you, say any day except next Saturday or the Monday immediately following.
As soon as I heard of your return to England I ventured to hope that some good might come of it to me in my room here, besides the general good, which I look for with the rest of the public, when the censer swings back into the midst of us again. And how good of you, dear Mrs. Jameson, to think of me there where the perfumes were set burning; it makes me glad and grand that you should have been able to do so. Also the kind wishes which came with the thoughts (you say) were not in vain, for I have been very idle and very well; the angel of the summer has done more for me even than usual, and till the last wave of his wing I took myself to be quite well and at liberty, and even now I am as well as anyone can be who has heard the prison door shut for a whole winter at least, and knows it to be the only English alternative of a grave. Which is a gloomy way of saying that I am well but forced to shut myself up with disagreeable precautions all round, and I ought to be gratified instead of gloomy. Believe me that I shall be so when you come to see me, remaining in the meanwhile
Most truly yours,
To Mrs. Martin
Friday [about December 1845].
I am the guilty person, dearest Mrs. Martin! You would have heard from Henrietta at least yesterday, only I persisted in promising to write instead of her; and so, if there are reproaches, let them fall. Not that I am audacious and without shame! But I have grown familiar with an evil conscience as to these matters of not writing when I ought; and long ago I grew familiar with your mercy and power of pardoning; and then—and then—if silence and sulkiness are proved crimes of mine to ever such an extreme, why it would not be unnatural. Do you think I was born to live the life of an oyster, such as I do live here? And so, the moaning and gnashing of teeth are best done alone and without taking anyone into confidence. And so, this is all I have to say for myself, which perhaps you will be glad of; for you will be ready to agree with me that next to such faults of idleness, negligence, silence (call them by what names you please!) as I have been guilty of, is the repentance of them, if indeed the latter be not the most unpardonable of the two.
And what are you doing so late in Herefordshire? Is dear Mr. Martin too well, and tempting the demons? I do hope that the next news of you will be of your being about to approach the sun and visit us on the road. You do not give your wisdom away to your friends, all of it, I hope and trust—not even to Reynolds.
Tell Mr. Martin that a new great daily newspaper, professing 'ultraism' at the right end (meaning his and mine), is making 'mighty preparation,' to be called the 'Daily News,' to be edited by Dickens and to combine with the most liberal politics such literature as gives character to the French journals—the objects being both to help the people and to give a status to men of letters, socially and politically—great objects which will not be attained, I fear, by any such means. In the first place, I have misgivings as to Dickens. He has not, I think, breadth of mind enough for such work, with all his gifts; but we shall see. An immense capital has been offered and actually advanced. Be good patriots and order the paper. And talking of papers, I hope you read in the 'Morning Chronicle' Landor's verses to my friend and England's poet, Mr. Browning. They have much beauty.
You know that Occy has been ill, and that he is well? I hope you are not so behindhand in our news as not to know. For me, I am not yet undone by the winter. I still sit in my chair and walk about the room. But the prison doors are shut close, and I could dash myself against them sometimes with a passionate impatience of the need-less captivity. I feel so intimately and from evidence, how, with air and warmth together in any fair proportion, I should be as well and happy as the rest of the world, that it is intolerable—well, it is better to sympathise quietly with Lady—and other energetic runaways, than amuse you with being riotous to no end; and it is best to write one's own epitaph still more quietly, is it not?...
And oh how lightly I write, and then sigh to think of what different colours my spirits and my paper are. Do you know what it is to laugh, that you may not cry? Yet I hold a comfort fast.... Your very affectionate
To Mrs. Martin
Saturday [February-March 1846].
My dearest Mrs. Martin,—Indeed it has been tantalising and provoking to have you close by without being able to gather a better advantage from it than the knowledge that you were suffering. So passes the world and the glory of it. I have been vexed into a high state of morality, I assure you. Now that you are gone away I hear from you again; and it does seem to me that almost always it happens so, and that you come to London to be ill and leave it before you can be well again. It is a comfort in every case to know of your being better, and Hastings is warm and quiet, and the pretty country all round (mind you go and see the 'Rocks' par excellence)! will entice you into very gentle exercise. At the same time, don't wish me into the house you speak of. I can lose nothing here, shut up in my prison, and the nightingales come to my windows and sing through the sooty panes. If I were at Hastings I should risk the chance of recovering liberty, and the consolations of slavery would not reach me as they do here. Also, if I were to set my heart upon Hastings, I might break it at leisure; there would be exactly as much difficulty in turning my face that way as towards Italy—ah, you do not understand! And I do, at last, I am sorry to say; and it has been very long, tedious and reluctant work, the learning of the lesson....
Did Henrietta tell you that I heard at last from Miss Martineau, who thought me in Italy, she said, and therefore was silent? She has sent me her new work (have you read it?) and speaks of her strength and of being able to walk fifteen miles a day, which seems to me like a fairy tale, or the 'Three-leagued Boots' at least.
What am I doing, to tell you of? Nothing! The winter is kind, and this divine 'muggy' weather (is that the technical word and spelling thereof?), which gives all reasonable people colds in their heads, leaves me the hope of getting back to the summer without much injury. A friend of mine—one of the greatest poets in England too—brought me primroses and polyanthuses the other day, as they are grown in Surrey! Surely it must be nearer spring than we think.
Dearest Mrs. Martin, write and say how you are. And say, God bless you, both the yous, and mention Mr. Martin particularly, and what your plans are.
Ever your affectionate
To Mrs. Martin
Tuesday [end of June 1846].
So, my dearest Mrs. Martin, you are quite angry with all of us and with me chiefly. Oh, you need not say no! I see it, I understand it, and shall therefore take up my own cause precisely as if I were an injured person. In the first place, dearest Mrs. Martin, when you wrote to me (at last!) to say that we were both guilty correspondents, you should have spoken in the singular number; for I was not guilty at all, I beg to say, while you were on the Continent. You were uncertain, you said, on going, where you should go and how long you should stay, and you promised to write and give me some sort of address—a promise never kept—and where was I to write to you? I heard for the first time, from the Peytons, of your being at Pau, and then you were expected at home. So innocent I am, and because it is a pleasure rather rare to make a sincere profession of innocence, I meant to write to you at least ten days ago; and then (believe me you will, without difficulty) the dreadful death of poor Mr. Haydon, the artist, quite upset me, and made me disinclined to write a word beyond necessary ones. I thank God that I never saw him—poor gifted Haydon—but, a year and a half ago, we had a correspondence which lasted through several months and was very pleasant while it lasted. Then it was dropped, and only a few days before the event he wrote three or four notes to me to ask me to take charge of some papers and pictures, which I acceded to as once I had done before. He was constantly in pecuniary difficulty, and in apprehension of the seizure of goods; and nothing of fear suggested itself to my mind—nothing. The shock was very great. Oh! I do not write to you to write of this. Only I would have you understand the real case, and that it is not an excuse, and that it was natural for me to be shaken a good deal. No artist is left behind with equal largeness of poetical conception! If the hand had always obeyed the soul, he would have been a genius of the first order. As it is, he lived on the slope of greatness and could not be steadfast and calm. His life was one long agony of self-assertion. Poor, poor Haydon! See how the world treats those who try too openly for its gratitude! 'Tom Thumb for ever' over the heads of the giants.
So you heard that I was quite well? Don't believe everything you hear. But I am really in a way to be well, if I could have such sunshine as we have been burning in lately, and a fair field of peace besides. Generally, I am able to go out every day, either walking or in the carriage—'walking' means as far as Queen Anne's Street. The wonderful winter did not cast me down, and the hot summer helps me up higher. Now, to keep in the sun is the problem to solve; and if I can do it, I shall be 'as well as anybody.' If I can't, as ill as ever. Which is the résumé of me, without a word more....
Your ever affectionate
To H.S. Boyd
June 27, 1846 [postmark].
Dearest Mr. Boyd,—Let me be clear of your reproaches for not going to you this week. The truth is that I have been so much shocked and shaken by the dreadful suicide of poor Mr. Haydon, the artist, I had not spirits for it. He was not personally my friend. I never saw him face to face. But we had corresponded, and one of his last acts was an act of trust towards me. Also I admired his genius. And all to end so! It has naturally affected me much.
So I could not come, but in a few days I will come; and in the meantime, I have had the sound of your voice to think of, more than I could think of the deep melodious bells, though they made the right and solemn impression. How I felt, to be under your roof again!
May God bless you, my very dear friend.
These words in the greatest haste.
From your ever affectionate
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