Part 2 out of 9
return to England before the spring--which news proved me a prophet,
and disappointed me at the same time, for one can't enjoy even a
prophecy in this world without something vexing. Indeed, I do long to
see you again, dearest Mrs. Martin, and should always have the same
pleasure in it, and affection for you, if my friends and acquaintances
were as much multiplied as you _wrongly_ suppose them to be. But the
truth is that I have almost none at all, in this place; and, except
our relative Mr. Kenyon, not one literary in any sense. Dear Miss
Mitford, one of the very kindest of human beings, lies buried in
geraniums, thirty miles away. I could not conceive what Henrietta
had been telling you, or what you meant, for a long time--until we
conjectured that it must have been something about Lady Dacre, who
kindly sent me her book, and intimated that she would be glad to
receive me at her conversations--and you know me better than to
doubt whether I would go or not. There was an equal unworthiness and
unwillingness towards the honor of it. Indeed, dearest Mrs. Martin,
it is almost surprising how we contrive to be as dull in London as in
Devonshire--perhaps more so, for the sight of a multitude induces a
sense of seclusion which one has not without it; and, besides, there
were at Sidmouth many more known faces and listened-to voices than we
see and hear in this place. No house yet! And you will scarcely
have patience to read that papa has seen and likes another house in
Devonshire Place, and that he _may_ take it, and we _may_ be settled
in it, before the year closes. I myself think of the whole business
indifferently. My thoughts have turned so long on the subject of
houses, that the pivot is broken--and now they won't turn any more.
All that remains is, a sort of consciousness, that we should be more
comfortable in a house with cleaner carpets, and taken for rather
longer than a week at a time. Perhaps, after all, we are quite as well
_sur le tapis_ as it is. It is a thousand to one but that the feeling
of four red London walls closing around us for seven, eleven, or
twenty-five years, would be a harsh and hard one, and make us cry
wistfully to 'get out.' I am sure you will look up to your mountains,
and down to your lakes, and enter into this conjecture.
Talking of mountains and lakes is itself a trying thing to us poor
prisoners. Papa has talked several times of taking us into the country
for two months this summer, and we have dreamt of it a hundred times
in addition; but, after all, we are not likely to go I dare say. It
would have been very delightful--and who knows what may take place
next summer? We may not absolutely _die_, without seeing a tree.
Henrietta has seen a great many. You will have heard, I dare say, of
the enjoyment she had in her week at Camden House. She seems to have
walked from seven in the morning to seven at night; and was quite
delighted with the kindness within doors and the sunshine without. I
assure you that, fresh as she was from the air and dew, she saluted us
amidst the sentiment of our sisterly meeting just in this way--it was
almost her first exclamation--'What a very disagreeable smell there is
here!' And this, although she had brought geraniums enough from Camden
to perfume the Haymarket!...
I am happy to announce to you that a new little dove has appeared
from a shell--over which nobody had prognosticated good--on August
16, 1837. I and the senior doves appear equally delighted, and we
all three, in the capacity of good sitters and indefatigable
pullers-about, take a good deal of credit upon ourselves....
Arabel has begun oil painting, and without a master--and you can't
think how much effect and expression she has given to several of her
own sketches, notwithstanding all difficulties. Poor Henrietta is
without a piano, and is not to have one again _until we have another
house_! This is something like 'when Homer and Virgil are forgotten.'
_Speaking of Homer and Virgil_, I have been writing a 'Romance of the
Ganges,' in order to illustrate an engraving in the new annual
to be edited by Miss Mitford, Finden's tableaux for 1838. It does not
sound a _very_ Homeric undertaking--I confess I don't hold any kind of
annual, gild it as you please, in too much honour and awe--but from
my wish to please her, and from the necessity of its being done in a
certain time, I was 'quite frightful,' as poor old Cooke used to
say, in order to express his own nervousness. But she was quite
pleased--she is very soon pleased--and the ballad, gone the way of
all writing, now-a-days, to the press. I do wish I could send you some
kind of news that would interest you; but you see scarcely any except
all this selfishness is in my beat. Dearest Bro draws and reads
German, and I fear is dull notwithstanding. But we are every one of
us more reconciled to London than we were. Well! I must not write
any more. Whenever you think of me, dearest Mrs. Martin, remember how
deeply and unchangeably I must regard you--both with my _mind_, my
_affections_, and that part of either, called my gratitude. BA.
Henrietta's kindest love and thanks for your letter. She desires me
to say that she and Bro are going to dine with Mrs. Robert Martin
to-morrow. I must tell you that Georgie and I went to hear Dr.
Chalmers preach, three Sundays ago. His sermon was on a text whose
extreme beauty would diffuse itself into any sermon preached upon
it--God is love. His eloquence was very great, and his views noble and
grasping. I expected much from his imagination, but not so much from
his knowledge. It was truer to Scripture than I was prepared for,
although there seemed to me some _want_ on the subject of the work
of the Holy Spirit on the heart, which work we cannot dwell upon too
emphatically. 'He worketh in us to will and to do,' and yet we are apt
to will and do without a transmission of the praise to Him. May God
[Footnote 34: _Poetical Works_, ii. 83.]
_To Miss Commeline_
London: August 19, 1837.
My dear Miss Commeline,--I could not hear of your being in affliction
without very frequent thoughts of you and a desire to express some of
them in this way, and although so much time has passed I do hope that
you will believe in the sympathy with which I, or rather _we_, have
thought of you, and in the regard we shall not cease to feel for you
even if we meet no more in this world. It is blessed to know both
for ourselves and for each other that while there is a darkness that
_must_ come to all, there is a light which _may_; and may He who is
the light in the dark place be with you [now] and always, causing you
to feel rather the glory that is in Him than the shadow which is in
all beside--that so the sweetness of the consolation may pass the
bitterness of even grief. Do give my love to Mrs. Commeline and to
your sisters, and believe me, all of you, that the friends who have
gone from your neighbourhood have not gone from my old remembrance,
either of your kindness to them, or of their own feelings of interest
Trusting to such old remembrances, I will believe that you care to
know what we are doing and how we are settling--that word which has
now been on our lips for years, which it is marvellous to think how
it got upon human lips at all. We came from Sidmouth to try London and
ourselves, and see whether or not we could live together; and after
more than a year and a half close contact with smoke we find no very
good excuse for not remaining in it; and papa is going on with his
eternal hunt for houses--the wild huntsman in the ballad is nothing
to him, all except the sublimity--intending very seriously to take
the first he can. He is now about one in particular, but I won't tell
where it is because we have considered so many houses in particular
that our considerations have come to be a jest in general. I shall
be heartily glad, at least I _think_ so, for it is possible that
the reality of being bricked up for a lease time may not be very
agreeable. I think I shall be heartily glad when a house is taken, and
we have made it look like our own with our furniture and pictures and
books. I am so anxious to see my old books. I believe I shall begin at
the beginning and read every story book through in the joy of meeting,
and shall be as sedentary as ever I was in my own arm-chair. I
remember when I was a child spreading my vitality, not over trees and
flowers (I do that still--I still believe they have a certain animal
susceptibility to pleasure and pain; 'it is my creed,' and, being
Wordsworth's besides, I am not ashamed of it), but over chairs and
tables and books in particular, and being used to fancy a kind of love
in them to suit my love to them. And so if I were a child I should
have an intense pity for my poor folios, quartos, and duodecimos, to
say nothing of the arm-chair, shut up all these weeks and months in
boxes, without a rational eye to look upon them. Pray forgive me if I
have written a great deal of nonsense--'Je m'en doute.'
Henrietta has spent a fortnight at Chislehurst with the Martins, and
was very joyous there, and came back to us with that happy triumphant
air which I always fancy people 'just from the country' put on towards
us hapless Londoners.
But you must not think I am a discontented person and grumble all day
long at being in London. _There are many advantages here_, as I say to
myself whenever it is particularly disagreeable; and if we can't see
even a leaf or a sparrow without soot on it, there are the parrots at
the Zoological Gardens and the pictures at the Royal Academy; and real
live poets above all, with their heads full of the trees and birds and
sunshine of paradise. I have stood face to face with Wordsworth and
Landor; and Miss Mitford, who is in herself what she is in her books,
has become a dear friend of mine, but a distant one. She visits London
at long intervals, and lives thirty miles away....
Bro and I were studying German together all last summer with Henry,
before he left us to become a German, and I believe this is the last
of my languages, for I have begun absolutely to detest the sight of a
dictionary or grammar, which I never liked except as a means, and love
poetry with an intenser love, if that be possible, than I ever did.
Not that Greek is not as dear to me as ever, but I write more than I
read, even of Greek poetry, and am resolute to work whatever little
faculty I have, clear of imitations and conventionalisms which
cloud and weaken more poetry (particularly now-a-days) than would be
believed possible without looking into it....
As to society in London, I assure you that none of us have much, and
that as for me, you would wonder at seeing how possible it is to
live as secludedly in the midst of a multitude as in the centre
of solitude. My doves are my chief acquaintances, and I am so very
intimate with _them_ that they accept and even demand my assistance in
building their innumerable nests. Do tell me if there is any hope of
seeing any of you in London at any time. I say 'do tell me,' for I
will venture to ask you, dear Miss Commeline, to write me a few lines
in one of the idlest hours of one of your idlest days just to tell me
a little about you, and whether Mrs. Commeline is tolerably well. Pray
believe me under all circumstances,
Yours sincerely and affectionately,
The spring of 1838 was marked by two events of interest to Miss
Barrett and her family. In the first place, Mr. Barrett's apparently
interminable search for a house ended in his selection of 50 Wimpole
Street, which continued to be his home for the rest of his life, and
which is, consequently, more than any other house in London, to
be associated with his daughter's memory. The second event was
the publication of 'The Seraphim, and other Poems,' which was Miss
Barrett's first serious appearance before the public, and in her
own name, as a poet. The early letters of this year refer to the
preparation of this volume, as well as to the authoress's health,
which was at this time in a very serious condition, owing to the
breaking of a blood-vessel. Indeed, from this time until her marriage
in 1846 she held her life on the frailest of tenures, and lived in all
respects the life of an invalid.
_To H.S. Boyd_
Monday morning, March 27, 1838 [postmark].
My dear Friend,--I do hope that you may not be very angry, but papa
thinks--and, indeed, I think--that as I have already _had_ two proof
sheets and forty-eight pages, and the printers have gone on to the
rest of the poem, it would not be very welcome to them if we were
to ask them to retrace their steps. Besides, I would rather--_I_ for
myself, _I_--that you had the whole poem at once and clearly printed
before you, to insure as many chances as possible of your liking it.
I am _promised_ to see the volume completed in three weeks from this
time, so that the dreadful moment of your reading it--I mean the
'Seraphim' part of it--cannot be far off, and perhaps, the season
being a good deal advanced even now, you might not, on consideration,
wish me to retard the appearance of the book, except for some very
sufficient reason. I feel very nervous about it--far more than I did
when my 'Prometheus' crept out [of] the Greek, or I myself out of
the shell, in the first 'Essay on Mind.' Perhaps this is owing to Dr.
Chambers's medicines, or perhaps to a consciousness that my present
attempt _is_ actually, and will be considered by others, more a trial
of strength than either of my preceding ones.
Thank you for the books, and especially for the _editio rarissima_,
which I should as soon have thought of your trusting to me as of your
admitting me to stand with gloves on within a yard of Baxter. This
extraordinary confidence shall not be abused.
I thank you besides for your kind inquiries about my health. Dr.
Chambers did not think me worse yesterday, notwithstanding the last
cold days, which have occasioned some uncomfortable sensations, and he
still thinks I shall be better in the summer season. In the meantime
he has ordered me to take ice--out of sympathy with nature, I suppose;
and not to speak a word, out of contradiction to my particular, human,
Whereupon I revenge myself, you see, by talking all this nonsense upon
paper, and making you the victim.
To propitiate you, let me tell you that your commands have been
performed to the letter, and that one Greek motto (from 'Orpheus')
is given to the first part of 'The Seraphim,' and another from
_Chrysostom_ to the second.
Henrietta desires me to say that she means to go to see you very soon.
Give my very kind remembrance to Miss Holmes, and believe me,
Your affectionate friend,
I saw Mr. Kenyon yesterday. He has a book just coming out. I
should like you to read it. If you would, you would thank me for
[Footnote 35: _Poems, for the most part occasional_, by John Kenyon.]
_To John Kenyon_
Thank you, dearest Mr. Kenyon; and I should (and _shall_) thank Miss
Thomson too for caring to spend a thought on me after all the Parisian
glories and rationalities which I sympathise with by many degrees
nearer than you seem to do. We, in this England here, are just social
barbarians, to my mind--that is, we know how to read and write and
think, and even talk on occasion; but we carry the old rings in our
noses, and are proud of the flowers pricked into our cuticles. By so
much are they better than we on the Continent, I always think. Life
has a thinner rind, and so a livelier sap. And _that_ I can see in the
books and the traditions, and always understand people who like living
in France and Germany, and should like it myself, I believe, on some
Where did you get your Bacchanalian song? Witty, certainly, but
the recollection of the _scores_ a little ghastly for the occasion,
perhaps. You have yourself sung into silence, too, all possible songs
of Bacchus, as the god and I know.
Here is a delightful letter from Miss Martineau. I cannot be so
selfish as to keep it to myself. The sense of natural beauty and the
_good_ sense of the remarks on rural manners are both exquisite of
their kinds, and Wordsworth is Wordsworth as she knows him. Have I
said that Friday will find me expecting the kind visit you promise?
_That_, at least, is what I meant to say with all these words.
Ever affectionately yours,
[Footnote 36: John Kenyon (1784-1856) was born in Jamaica, the son
of a wealthy West Indian landowner, but came to England while quite
a boy, and was a conspicuous figure in literary society during the
second quarter of the century. He published some volumes of minor
verse, but is best known for his friendships with many literary men
and women, and for his boundless generosity and kindliness to all with
whom he was brought into contact. Crabb Robinson described him as a
man 'whose life is spent in making people happy.' He was a distant
cousin of Miss Barrett, and a friend of Robert Browning, who dedicated
to him his volume of 'Dramatic Romances,' besides writing and sending
to him 'Andrea del Sarto' as a substitute for a print of the painter's
portrait which he had been unable to find. The best account of Kenyon
is to be found in Mrs. Crosse's 'John Kenyon and his Friends' (in
_Red-Letter Days of My Life_, vol. i.).]
_To John Kenyon_
Wimpole Street: Sunday evening [1838?].
My dear Mr. Kenyon,--I am _so_ sorry to hear of your going, and I not
able to say 'good-bye' to you, that--I am _not_ writing this note on
It is a begging note, and now I am wondering to myself whether you
will think me very childish or womanish, or silly enough to be both
together (I know your thoughts upon certain parallel subjects), if
I go on to do my begging fully. I hear that you are going to Mr.
Wordsworth's--to Rydal Mount--and I want you to ask _for yourself_,
and then to send to me in a letter--by the post, I mean, two cuttings
out of the garden--of myrtle or geranium; I care very little which, or
what else. Only I say 'myrtle' because it is less given to die and I
say _two_ to be sure of my chances of saving one. Will you? You would
please me very much by doing it; and certainly not _dis_ please me by
refusing to do it. Your broadest 'no' would not sound half so strange
to me as my 'little crooked thing' does to you; but you see everybody
in the world is fanciful about something, and why not _E.B.B._?
Dear Mr. Kenyon, I have a book of yours--M. Rio's. If you want it
before you go, just write in two words, 'Send it,' or I shall infer
from your silence that I may keep it until you come back. No necessity
for answering this otherwise. Is it as bad as asking for autographs,
or worse? At any rate, believe me _in earnest_ this time--besides
being, with every wish for your enjoyment of mountains and lakes and
Ever affectionately yours,
_To H.S. Boyd_
My dear friend,--I am rather better than otherwise within the last
few days, but fear that nothing will make me essentially so except
the invisible sun. I am, however, a little better, and God's will is
always done in mercy.
As to the poems, do forgive me, dear Mr. Boyd; and refrain from
executing your cruel threat of suffering 'the desire of reading them
to pass away.'
I have not one sheet of them; and papa--and, to say the truth, I
myself--would so very much prefer your reading the preface first, that
you must try to indulge us in our phantasy. The book Mr. Bentley half
promises to finish the printing of this week. At any rate it is likely
to be all done in the next: and you may depend upon having a copy _as
soon_ as I have power over one.
With kind regards to Miss Holmes,
Believe me, your affectionate friend,
_To H.S. Boyd_
50 Wimpole Street; Wednesday [May 1838].
Thank you for your inquiry, my dear friend. I had begun to fancy that
between Saunders and Otley and the 'Seraphim' I had fallen to the
ground of your disfavour. But I do trust to be able to send you a copy
before next Sunday.
I am thrown back a little just now by having caught a very bad cold,
which has of course affected my cough. The worst seems, however, to be
past, and Dr. Chambers told me yesterday that he expected to see me
in two days nearly as well as before this casualty. And I have been,
thank God, pretty well lately; and although when the stethoscope was
applied three weeks ago, it did not speak very satisfactorily of the
state of the lungs, yet Dr. Chambers seems to be hopeful still, and to
talk of the wonders which the summer sunshine (when it does come) may
be the means of doing for me. And people say that I look rather better
than worse, even now.
Did you hear of an autograph of Shakespeare's being sold lately for a
very large sum (I _think_ it was above a hundred pounds) on the credit
of its being the only genuine autograph extant? Is yours quite safe?
And are _you_ so, in your opinion of its veritableness?
I have just finished a very long barbarous ballad for Miss Mitford and
the Finden's tableaux of this year. The title is 'The Romaunt of the
Page,' and the subject not of my own choosing.
I believe that you will certainly have 'The Seraphim' this week. Do
macadamise the frown from your brow in order to receive them.
Give my love to Miss Holmes.
Your affectionate friend,
[Footnote 37: _Poetical Works_, ii. 40.]
_To H.S. Boyd_
June 7, 1838 [postmark].
My dear Mr. Boyd,--Papa is scarcely inclined, nor am I for myself, to
send my book or books to the East Indies. Let them alone, poor things,
until they can walk about a little! and then it will be time enough
for them to 'learn to _fly_.'
I am so sorry that Emily Harding saw Arabel and went away without this
note, which I have been meaning to write to you for several days, and
have been so absorbed and drawn away (all except my thoughts) by
other things necessary to be done, that I was forced to defer it. My
ballad, containing a ladye dressed up like a page and galloping
off to Palestine in a manner that would scandalise you, went to Miss
Mitford this morning. But I augur from its length that she will not be
able to receive it into Finden.
Arabel has told me what Miss Harding told her of your being in the act
of going through my 'Seraphim' for the second time. For the feeling
of interest in me which brought this labour upon you, I thank you, my
dear friend. What your opinion _is_, and _will_ be, I am prepared to
hear with a good deal of awe. You will _certainly not approve of the
There now! You see I am prepared. Therefore do not keep back one rough
word, for friendship's sake, but be as honest as--you could not help
being, without this request.
If I should live, I shall write (_I believe_) better poems than 'The
Seraphim;' which belief will help me to survive the condemnation heavy
upon your lips.
[Footnote 38: 'The Romaunt of the Page.']
'The Seraphim, and other Poems,' a duodecimo of 360 pages, at last
made its appearance at the end of May. At the time of its publication,
English poetry was experiencing one of its periods of ebb between
two flood tides of great achievement. Shelley, Keats, Byron, Scott,
Coleridge were dead; Wordsworth had ceased to produce poetry of the
first order; no fresh inspiration was to be expected from Landor,
Southey, Rogers, Campbell, and such other writers of the Georgian era
as still were numbered with the living. On the other hand, Tennyson,
though already the most remarkable among the younger poets, was still
but exercising himself in the studies in language and metrical music
by which his consummate art was developed; Browning had published only
'Pauline,' 'Paracelsus,' and 'Strafford;' the other poets who have
given distinction to the Victorian age had not begun to write. And
between the veterans of the one generation and the young recruits of
the next there was a singular want of writers of distinction. There
was thus every opportunity for a new poet when Miss Barrett entered
the lists with her first volume of acknowledged verse.
Its reception, on the whole, does credit alike to its own merits and
to the critics who reviewed it. It does not contain any of those poems
which have proved the most popular among its authoress's complete
works, except 'Cowper's Grave;' but 'The Seraphim' was a poem which
deserved to attract attention, and among the minor poems were 'The
Poet's Vow,' 'Isobel's Child,' 'The Romaunt of Margret,' 'My Doves,'
and 'The Sea-mew.' The volume did not suffice to win any wide
reputation for Miss Barrett, and no second edition was called for; on
the other hand, it was received with more than civility, with genuine
cordiality, by several among the reviewers, though they did not fail
to note its obvious defects. The 'Athenaeum' began its review with
the following declaration:
This is an extraordinary volume--especially welcome as an
evidence of female genius and accomplishment--but it is hardly
less disappointing than extraordinary. Miss Barrett's genius
is of a high order; active, vigorous, and versatile, but
unaccompanied by discriminating taste. A thousand strange and
beautiful views flit across her mind, but she cannot look on
them with steady gaze; her descriptions, therefore, are
often shadowy and indistinct, and her language wanting in the
simplicity of unaffected earnestness.
[Footnote 39: July 7, 1838.]
The 'Examiner,' after quoting at length from the preface and 'The
Who will deny to the writer of such verses as these (and they
are not sparingly met with in the volume) the possession of
many of the highest qualities of the divine art? We regret
to have some restriction to add to an admission we make so
gladly. Miss Barrett is indeed a genuine poetess, of no common
order; yet is she in danger of being spoiled by over-ambition;
and of realising no greater or more final reputation than
a hectical one, like Crashaw's. She has fancy, feeling,
imagination, expression; but for want of some just equipoise
or other, between the material and spiritual, she aims
at flights which have done no good to the strongest, and
therefore falls infinitely short, except in such detached
passages as we have extracted above, of what a proper exercise
of her genius would infallibly reach.... Very various, and
in the main beautiful and true, are the minor poems. But the
entire volume deserves more than ordinary attention.
[Footnote 40: June 24, 1838.]
The 'Atlas,' another paper whose literary judgments were highly
esteemed at that date, was somewhat colder, and dwelt more on
the faults of the volume, but added nevertheless that 'there are
occasional passages of great beauty, and full of deep poetical
feeling. In 'The Romaunt of Margret' it detected the influence of
Tennyson--a suggestion which Miss Barrett repudiated rather warmly;
and it concluded with the declaration that the authoress 'possesses
a fine poetical temperament, and has given to the public, in this
volume, a work of considerable merit.'
[Footnote 41: June 23, 1838.]
Such were the principal voices among the critical world when Miss
Barrett first ventured into its midst; and she might well be satisfied
with them. Two years later, the 'Quarterly Review' included her
name in a review of 'Modern English Poetesses,' along with Caroline
Norton, 'V.,' and others whose names are even less remembered to-day.
But though the reviewer speaks of her genius and learning in high
terms of admiration, he cannot be said to treat her sympathetically.
He objects to the dogmatic positiveness of her prefaces, and protests
warmly against her 'reckless repetition of the name of God'--a charge
which, in another connection, will be found fully and fairly met in
one of her later letters. On points of technique he criticises
her frequent use of the perfect participle with accented final
syllable--'kissed,' 'bowed,' and the like--and her fondness for the
adverb 'very;' both of which mannerisms he charges to the example of
Tennyson. He condemns the 'Prometheus,' though recognising it as 'a
remarkable performance for a young lady.' He criticises the subject of
'The Seraphim,' 'from which Milton would have shrunk;' but adds, 'We
give Miss Barrett, however, the full credit of a lofty purpose, and
admit, moreover, that several particular passages in her poem
are extremely fine; equally profound in thought and striking in
expression.' He sums up as follows:
[Footnote 42: September 1840.]
In a word, we consider Miss Barrett to be a woman of undoubted
genius and most unusual learning; but that she has indulged
her inclination for themes of sublime mystery, not certainly
without displaying great power, yet at the expense of that
clearness, truth, and proportion, which are essential to
beauty; and has most unfortunately fallen into the trammels
of a school or manner of writing, which, of all that ever
existed--Lycophron, Lucan, and Gongora not forgotten--is most
open to the charge of being _vitiis imitabile exemplar_.
So much for the reception of 'The Seraphim' volume by the outside
world. The letters show how it appeared to the authoress herself.
The first of them deserves a word of special notice, because it is
likewise the first in these volumes addressed to Miss Mary Russell
Mitford, whose name holds a high and honourable place in the roll
of Miss Barrett's friends. Her own account of the beginning of the
friendship should be quoted in any record of Mrs. Browning's life.
'My first acquaintance with Elizabeth Barrett commenced about fifteen
years ago. She was certainly one of the most interesting persons
that I had ever seen. Everybody who then saw her said the same;
so that it is not merely the impression of my partiality or my
enthusiasm. Of a slight, delicate figure, with a shower of dark curls
falling on either side of a most expressive face, large tender eyes,
richly fringed by dark eyelashes, a smile like a sunbeam, and such
a look of youthfulness that I had some difficulty in persuading a
friend, in whose carriage we went together to Chiswick, that the
translatress of the "Prometheus" of Aeschylus, the authoress of the
"Essay on Mind," was old enough to be introduced into company,
in technical language, was 'out.' Through the kindness of another
invaluable friend, to whom I owe many obligations, but none so
great as this, I saw much of her during my stay in town. We met so
constantly and so familiarly that, in spite of the difference of
age, intimacy ripened into friendship, and after my return into
the country we corresponded freely and frequently, her letters being
just what letters ought to be--her own talk put upon paper.'
[Footnote 43: This was written about the end of 1851.]
[Footnote 44: Probably John Kenyon, whom Miss Mitford elsewhere calls
'the pleasantest man in London;' he, on his side, said of Miss Mitford
that 'she was better and stronger than any of her books.']
[Footnote 45: Nineteen years, Miss Mitford having been born in 1787.]
[Footnote 46: _Recollections of a Literary Life_, by Mary Russell
Mitford, p. 155 (1859).]
Miss Barrett's letters show how warmly she returned this feeling of
friendship, which lasted until Miss Mitford's death in 1855. Of the
earlier letters many must have disappeared: for it is evident from
Miss Mitford's just quoted words, and also from many references in
her published correspondence, that they were in constant communication
during these years of Miss Barrett's life in London. After her
marriage, however, the extant letters are far more frequent, and will
be found to fill a considerable place in the later pages of this work.
_To Miss Mitford_
50 Wimpole Street: Thursday [June 1838].
We thank you gratefully, dearest Miss Mitford. Papa and I and all of
us thank you for your more than kindnesses. The extracts were both
gladdening and surprising--and the one the more for being the other
also. Oh! it was _so_ kind of you, in the midst of your multitude of
occupations, to make time (out of love) to send them to us!
As to the ballad, dearest Miss Mitford, which you and Mr. Kenyon are
indulgent enough to like, remember that he passed his criticism
over it--before it went to you--and so if you did not find as many
obscurities as he did in it, the reason is--_his_ merit and not mine.
But don't believe him--no!--don't believe even Mr. Kenyon--whenever
he says that I am _perversely_ obscure. Unfortunately obscure, not
perversely--that is quite a wrong word. And the last time he used it
to me (and then, I assure you, another word still worse was with it)
I begged him to confine them for the future to his jesting moods.
Because, _indeed_, I am not in the very least degree perverse in this
fault of mine, which is my destiny rather than my choice, and comes
upon me, I think, just where I would eschew it most. So little has
perversity to do with its occurrence, that my fear of it makes me
sometimes feel quite nervous and thought-tied in composition....
I have not seen Mr. Kenyon since I wrote last. All last week I was
not permitted to get out of bed, and was haunted with leeches and
blisters. And in the course of it, Lady Dacre was so kind as to call
here, and to leave a note instead of the personal greeting which I was
not able to receive. The honor she did me a year ago, in sending me
her book, encouraged me to offer her my poems. I hesitated about doing
so at first, lest it should appear as if my vanity were dreaming of
a _return_; but Mr. Kenyon's opinion turned the balance. I was very
sorry not to have seen Lady Dacre and have written a reply to her
note expressive of this regret. But, after all, this inaudible voice
(except in its cough) could have scarcely made her understand that I
was obliged by her visit, had I been able to receive it.
Dr. Chambers has freed me again into the drawing-room, and I am much
better or he would not have done so. There is not, however, much
strength or much health, nor any near prospect of regaining either.
It is well that, in proportion to our feebleness, we may feel our
dependence upon God.
I feel as if I had not said half, and they have come to ask me if I
have not said _all_! My beloved friend, may you be happy in all ways!
Do write whenever you wish to talk and have no one to talk to nearer
you than I am! _Indeed_, I did not forget Dr. Mitford when I wrote
those words, although they look like it.
Your gratefully affectionate
_To H.S. Boyd_
50 Wimpole Street: Wednesday morning [June 1838].
My dear Friend,--Do not think me depraved in ingratitude for not
sooner thanking you for the pleasure, made so much greater by the
surprise, which your note of judgment gave me. The truth is that I
have been very unwell, and delayed answering it immediately until the
painful physical feeling went away to make room for the pleasurable
moral one--and this I fancied it would do every hour, so that I might
be able to tell you at ease all that was in my thoughts. The fancy was
a vain one. The pain grew worse and worse, and Dr. Chambers has been
here for two successive days shaking his head as awfully as if it bore
all Jupiter's ambrosial curls; and is to be here again to-day, but
with, I trust, a less grave countenance, inasmuch as the leeches last
night did their duty, and I feel much better--God be thanked for the
relief. But I am not yet as well as before this attack, and am still
confined to my bed--and so you must rather imagine than read what I
thought and felt in reading your wonderful note. Of course it pleased
me very much, very very much--and, I dare say, would have made me vain
by this time, if it had not been for the opportune pain and the sight
of Dr. Chambers's face.
I sent a copy of my book to Nelly Bordman _before_ I read your
suggestion. I knew that her kind feeling for me would interest her in
the sight of it.
Thank you once more, dear Mr. Boyd! May all my critics be gentle after
the pattern of your gentleness!
Believe me, affectionately yours,
_To H.S. Boyd_
50 Wimpole Street: June 17 .
My dear Friend,--I send you a number of the 'Atlas' which you may
keep. It is a favorable criticism, certainly--but I confess this of my
vanity, that it has not altogether pleased me. You see what it is to
As to the 'Athenaeum,' although I am _not_ conscious of the quaintness
and mannerism laid to my charge, and am very sure that I have always
written too naturally (that is, too much from the impulse of thought
and feeling) to have studied '_attitudes_,' yet the critic was quite
right in stating his opinion, and so am I in being grateful to him for
the liberal praise he has otherwise given me. Upon the whole, I like
his review better than even the 'Examiner,' notwithstanding my being
perfectly satisfied with _that_.
Thank you for the question about my health. I am very tolerably
well--for _me_: and am said to look better. At the same time I am
aware of being always on the verge of an increase of illness--I mean,
in a very excitable state--with a pulse that flies off at a word
and is only to be caught by digitalis. But I am better--for the
present--while the sun shines.
Thank you besides for your criticisms, which I shall hold in memory,
and use whenever I am not particularly _obstinate_, in all my
You will smile at that, and so do _I._
Arabel is walking in the Zoological Gardens with the Cliffes--but I
think you will see her before long.
Your affectionate friend,
Don't let me forget to mention the Essays. You shall have
yours--and Miss Bordman hers--and the delay has not arisen from either
forgetfulness or indifference on my part--although I never deny that
I don't like giving the Essay to anybody because I don't like it.
Now that sounds just like 'a woman's reason,' but it isn't, albeit so
reasonable! I meant to say 'because I don't like the ESSAY.'
[Footnote 47: i.e. copies of the _Essay on Mind_.]
_To H.S. Boyd_
50 Wimpole Street: Thursday, June 21 .
My dear Friend,--Notwithstanding this silence so ungrateful in
appearance, I thank you at last, and very sincerely, for your kind
letter. It made me laugh, and amused me--and gratified me besides.
Certainly your 'quality of mercy is not strained.'
My reason for not writing more immediately is that Arabel has meant,
day after day, to go to you, and has had a separate disappointment for
every day. She says now, '_Indeed_, I hope to see Mr. Boyd to-morrow.'
But _I_ say that I will not keep this answer of mine to run the risk
of another day's contingencies, and that _it_ shall go, whether _she_
does or not.
I am better a great deal than I was last week, and have been allowed
by Dr. Chambers to come downstairs again, and occupy my old place
on the sofa. My health remains, however, in what I cannot help
considering myself, and in what, I _believe_, Dr. Chambers considers,
a very precarious state, and my weakness increases, of course, under
the remedies which successive attacks render necessary. Dr. Chambers
deserves my confidence--and besides the skill with which he has met
the different modifications of the complaint, I am grateful to him
for a feeling and a sympathy which are certainly rare in such of his
profession as have their attention diverted, as his must be, by an
immense practice, to fifty objects in a day. But, notwithstanding all,
one breath of the east wind undoes whatever he labours to do. It is
well to look up and remember that in the eternal reality these second
causes are no causes at all.
Don't leave this note about for Arabel to see. I am anxious not to
alarm her, or any one of my family: and it may please God to make me
as well and strong again as ever. And, indeed, I am twice as well this
week as I was last.
Your affectionate friend, dear Mr. Boyd,
I have seen an extract from a private letter of Mr. Chorley, editor
of the 'Athenaeum,' which speaks _huge_ praises of my poems. If he
were to say a tithe of them in print, it would be nine times above my
[Footnote 48: This is an error. Mr. Chorley was not editor of the
_Athenaeum_, though he was one of its principal contributors.]
_To H.S. Boyd_
My dear Friend,--I begged your servant to wait--how long ago I am
afraid to think--but certainly I must not make this note very long. I
did intend to write to you to-day in any case. Since Saturday I have
had my thanks ready at the end of my fingers waiting to slide along
to the nib of my pen. Thank you for all your kindness and criticism,
which is kindness too--thank you at last. Would that I deserved the
praises as well as I do most of the findings-fault--and there is no
time now to say more of _them_. Yet I believe I have something to say,
and will find a time to say it in.
Dr. Chambers has just been here, and does not think me quite as well
as usual. The truth is that I was rather excited and tired yesterday
by rather too much talking and hearing talking, and suffer for it
to-day in my _pulse_. But I am better on the whole.
Mr. Cross, the great lion, the insect-making lion, came yesterday
with Mr. Kenyon, and afterwards Lady Dacre. She is kind and gentle in
her manner. She told me that she had 'placed my book in the hands of
Mr. Bobus Smith, the brother of Sidney Smith, and the best judge
in England,' and that it was to be returned to her on Tuesday. If I
_should_ hear the 'judgment,' I will tell you, whether you care to
hear it or not. There is no other review, as far as I am aware.
Give my love to Miss Bordman. When is she coming to see me?
The thunder did not do me any harm.
Your affectionate friend, in great haste, although your servant is not
likely to think so, E.B.B.
[Footnote 49: Andrew Crosse, the electrician, who had recently
published his observations of a remarkable development of insect life
in connection with certain electrical experiments--a discovery which
caused much controversy at the time, on account of its supposed
bearings on the origin of life and the doctrine of creation.]
_To H.S. Boyd_
My dear Friend,--You must let me _feel_ my thanks to you, even when
I do not _say_ them. I have put up your various notes together, and
perhaps they may do me as much good hereafter, as they have already,
for the most part, given me pleasure.
The 'burden pure _have_ been' certainly was a misprint, as certainly
'nor man nor nature satisfy' is ungrammatical. But I am _not_ so
sure about the passage in Isobel:
I am not used to tears at nights Instead of slumber--nor to prayer.
Now I think that the passage may imply a repetition of the words with
which it begins, after 'nor'--thus--'nor _am I used_ to prayer,' &c.
Either you or I may be right about it, and either 'or' or 'nor' may be
grammatical. At least, so I pray.
You did not answer one question. Do you consider that '_apolyptic_'
stands without excuse?
I never read Greek to any person except yourself and Mr. MacSwiney,
my brother's tutor. To him I read longer than a few weeks, but then
it was rather guessing and stammering and tottering through parts of
Homer and extracts from Xenophon than reading. _You_ would not have
called it reading if you had heard it.
I studied hard by myself afterwards, and the kindness with which
afterwards still you assisted me, if yourself remembers gladly _I_
remember _gratefully_ and gladly.
I have just been told that your servant was desired by you _not to
wait a minute_.
The wind is unfavorable for the sea. I do not think there is the least
probability of my going before the end of next week, if then. You
I am tolerably well. I have been forced to take digitalis again, which
makes me feel weak; but still I am better, I think.
[Footnote 50: Altered in later editions to 'satisfies.']
[Footnote 51: In later editions 'not' is repeated instead of 'nor,'
which looks like a compromise between her own opinion and Mr. Boyd's.]
[Footnote 52: The poem entitled 'Sounds,' in the volume of 1838,
contained the line 'As erst in Patmos apolyptic John,' presumably for
'apocalyptic.' This being naturally held to be 'without excuse,'
the line was altered in subsequent editions to 'As the seer-saint of
Patmos, loving John.']
In the course of this year the failure in Miss Barrett's health had
become so great that her doctor advised removal to a warmer climate
for the winter. Torquay was the place selected, and thither she
went in the autumn, accompanied by her brother Edward, her favourite
companion from childhood. Other members of the family, including Mr.
Barrett, joined them from time to time. At Torquay she was able to
live, but no more, and it was found necessary for her to stay during
the summers as well as the winters of the next three years. Letters
from this period are scarce, though it is clear from Miss Mitford's
correspondence that a continuous interchange of letters was kept up
between the two friends, and her acquaintanceship with Horne was now
ripening into a close literary intimacy. A story relating to Bishop
Phillpotts of Exeter, the hero of so many racy anecdotes, is contained
in a letter of Miss Barrett's which must have been written about
Christmas of either 1838 or 1839:--
'He [the bishop] was, however, at church on Christmas Day, and upon
Mr. Elliot's being mercifully inclined to omit the Athanasian Creed,
prompted him most episcopally from the pew with a "whereas;" and
further on in the Creed, when the benign reader substituted the
word _condemnation_ for the terrible one--"Damnation!" exclaimed the
bishop. The effect must have been rather startling.'
A slight acquaintance with the words of the Athanasian Creed will
suggest that the story had suffered in accuracy before it reached Miss
Barrett, who, of course, was unable to attend church, and whose own
ignorance on the subject may be accounted for by remembering that
she had been brought up as a Nonconformist. With a little correction,
however, the story may be added to the many others on record with
respect to 'Henry of Exeter.'
The following letter is shown, by the similarity of its contents
to the one which succeeds it, to belong to November 1839, when Miss
Barrett was entering on her second winter in Torquay.
_To Mrs. Martin_
Beacon Terrace, Torquay: November 24 .
My dearest Mrs. Martin,--Henrietta _shall not_ write to-day, whatever
she may wish to do. I felt, in reading your unreproaching letter
to her, as self-reproachful as anybody could with a great deal of
innocence (in the way of the world) to fall back upon. I felt sorry,
very sorry, not to have written something to you something sooner,
which was a possible thing--although, since the day of my receiving
your welcome letter, I have written scarcely at all, nor that little
without much exertion. Had it been with me as usual, be sure that
you should not have had any silence to complain of. Henrietta knew I
wished to write, and felt, I suppose, unwilling to take my place when
my filling it myself before long appeared possible. A long story--and
not as entertaining as Mother Hubbard. But I would rather tire
you than leave you under any wrong impression, where my regard and
thankfulness to you, dearest Mrs. Martin, are concerned.
To reply to your kind anxiety about me, I may call myself decidedly
better than I have been. Since October I I have not been out of
bed--except just for an hour a day, when I am lifted to the sofa with
the bare permission of my physician--who tells me that it is so much
easier to make me worse than better, that he dares not permit anything
like exposure or further exertion. I like him (Dr. Scully) very
much, and although he evidently thinks my case in the highest degree
precarious, yet knowing how much I bore last winter and understanding
from him that the worst _tubercular_ symptoms have not actually
appeared, I am willing to think it may be God's will to keep me here
still longer. I would willingly stay, if it were only for the sake of
that tender affection of my beloved family which it so deeply affects
me to consider. Dearest papa is with us now--to my great comfort
and joy: and looking very well!--and astonishing everybody with his
eternal youthfulness! Bro and Henrietta and Arabel besides, I can
count as companions--and then there is dear Bummy! We are fixed at
Torquay for the winter--that is, until the end of May: and after that,
if I have any will or power and am alive to exercise either, I do
trust and hope to go away. The death of my kind friend Dr. Bury
was, as you suppose, a great grief and shock to me. How could it be
otherwise, after his daily kindness to me for a year? And then his
young wife and child--and the rapidity (a three weeks' illness) with
which he was hurried away from the energies and toils and honors of
professional life to the stillness of _that_ death!
'_God's Will_' is the only answer to the mystery of the world's
Don't fancy me worse than I am--or that this bed-keeping is the result
of a gradual sinking. It is not so. A feverish attack prostrated me
on October 2--and such will leave their effects--and Dr. Scully is so
afraid of leading me into danger by saying, 'You may get up and dress
as usual' that you should not be surprised if (in virtue of being the
senior Torquay physician and correspondingly prudent) he left me
in this durance vile for a great part of the winter. I am decidedly
better than I was a month ago, really and truly.
May God bless you, dearest Mrs. Martin! My best and kindest regards
to Mr. Martin. Henrietta desires me to promise for her a letter to
Colwall soon; but I think that one from Colwall should come first. May
God bless you! Bro's fancy just now is painting in water colours and
he performs many sketches. Do you ever in your dreams of universal
benevolence dream of travelling into Devonshire?
Love your affectionate BA,
--found guilty of egotism and stupidity 'by this sign' and at once!
_To H.S. Boyd_
1 Beacon Terrace, Torquay:
Wednesday, November 27, 1839.
If you can forgive me, my ever dear friend, for a silence which has
not been intended, there will be another reason for being thankful to
you, in addition to the many. To do myself justice, one of my earliest
impulses on seeing my beloved Arabel, and recurring to the kindness
with which you desired that happiness for me long before I possessed
it, was to write and tell you how happy I felt. But she had promised,
she said, to write herself, and moreover she and only she was to send
you the ballad--in expectation of your dread judgment upon which I
delayed my own writing. It came in the first letter we received in our
new house, on the first of last October. An hour after reading it, I
was upon my bed; was attacked by fever in the night, and from that
bed have never even been lifted since--to these last days of
November--except for one hour a day to the sofa at two yards'
distance. I am very much better now, and have been so for some time;
but my physician is so persuaded, he says, that it is easier to do
me harm than good, that he will neither permit any present attempt at
further exertion, nor hint at the time when it may be advisable for
him to permit it. Under the circumstances it has of course been more
difficult than usual for me to write. Pray believe, my dear and kind
friend, in the face of all circumstances and appearances, that I never
forget you, nor am reluctant (oh, how could that be?) to write to you;
and that you shall often have to pay 'a penny for my thoughts' under
the new Postage Act--if it be in God's wisdom and mercy to spare me
through the winter. Under the new act I shall not mind writing ten
words and then stopping. As it is, they would scarcely be worth eleven
Thank you again and again for your praise of the ballad, which both
delighted and _surprised_ me ... as I had scarcely hoped that you
might like it at all. Think of Mr. Tilt's never sending me a proof
sheet. The consequences are rather deplorable, and, if they had
occurred to you, might have suggested a deep melancholy for life.
In my case, _I_, who am, you know, hardened to sins of carelessness,
simply look _aghast_ at the misprints and mispunctuations coming in as
a flood, and sweeping away meanings and melodies together. The annual
itself is more splendid than usual, and its vignettes have illustrated
my story--angels, devils and all--most beautifully. Miss Mitford's
tales (in prose) have suffered besides by reason of Mr. Tilt--but are
attractive and graphic notwithstanding--and Mr. Horne has supplied a
dramatic poem of great power and beauty.
How I rejoice with you in the glorious revelation (about to be) of
Gregory's second volume! The 'De Virginitate' poem will, in its new
purple and fine linen, be more dazzling than ever.
Do you know that George is barrister-at-law of the Inner Temple--_is_?
I have seen him gazetted.
My dearest papa is with me now, making me very happy of course. I have
much reason to be happy--more to be grateful--yet am more obedient
to the former than to the latter impulse. May the Giver of good
give gratitude with as full a hand! May He bless _you_--and bring us
together again, if no more in the flesh, yet in the spirit!
Your ever affectionate friend,
Do write--when you are able and _least_ disinclined. Do you approve of
Prince Albert or not?
[Footnote 53: The engagement of Prince Albert to Queen Victoria took
place in October 1839.]
_To H.S. Boyd_
Torquay: May 29, 1840.
My ever dear Friend,--It was very pleasant to me to see your seal
upon a letter once more; and although the letter itself left me with
a mournful impression of your having passed some time so much less
happily than I would wish and pray for you, yet there remains the
pleasant thought to me still that you have not altogether forgotten
me. Do receive the expression of my most affectionate sympathy under
this and every circumstance--and I fear that the shock to your nerves
and spirits could not be a light one, however impressed you might be
and must be with the surety and verity of God's love working in all
His will. Poor poor Patience! Coming to be so happy with you, with
that joyous smile I thought so pretty! Do you not remember my telling
you so? Well--it is well and better for her; happier for her, if God
in Christ Jesus have received her, than her hopes were of the holiday
time with you. The holiday is _for ever_ now....
I heard from Nelly Bordman only a few days before receiving your
letter, and so far from preparing me for all this sadness and
gloom, she pleased me with her account of you whom she had lately
seen--dwelling upon your retrograde passage into youth, and the
delight you were taking in the presence and society of some still
more youthful, fair, and gay _monstrum amandum_, some prodigy of
intellectual accomplishment, some little Circe who never turned
anybodies into pigs. I learnt too from her for the first time that you
were settled at Hampstead! Whereabout at Hampstead, and for how long?
She didn't tell me _that_, thinking of course that I knew something
more about you than I do. Yes indeed; you _do_ treat me very shabbily.
I agree with you in thinking so. To think that so many hills and woods
should interpose between us--that I should be lying here, fast bound
by a spell, a sleeping beauty in a forest, and that _you_, who used
to be such a doughty knight, should not take the trouble of cutting
through even a hazel tree with your good sword, to find out what
had become of me. Now do tell me, the hazel tree being down at last,
whether you mean to live at Hampstead, whether you have taken a
house there and have carried your books there, and wear Hampstead
grasshoppers in your bonnet (as they did at Athens) to prove yourself
of the soil.
All this nonsense will make you think I am better, and indeed I am
pretty well just now--quite, however, confined to the bed--except when
lifted from it to the sofa baby-wise while they make it; even then
apt to faint. Bad symptoms too do not leave me; and I am obliged to be
blistered every few days--but I am free from any attack just now, and
am a good deal less feverish than I am occasionally. There has been
a consultation between an Exeter physician and my own, and they agree
exactly, both hoping that with care I shall pass the winter, and rally
in the spring, both hoping that I may be able to go about again with
some comfort and independence, although I never can be fit again for
anything like exertion....
Do you know, did you ever hear anything of Mr. Horne who wrote 'Cosmo
de Medici,' and the 'Death of Marlowe,' and is now desecrating his
powers (I beg your pardon) by writing the life of Napoleon? By the
way, he is the author of a dramatic sketch in the last Finden.
He is in my mind one of the very first poets of the day, and has
written to me so kindly (offering, although I never saw him in my
life, to cater for me in literature, and send me down anything likely
to interest me in the periodicals), that I cannot but think his
amiability and genius do honor to one another.
Do you remember Mr. Caldicott who used to preach in the infant
schoolroom at Sidmouth? He died here the death of a saint, as he had
lived a saintly life, about three weeks ago. It affected me a good
deal. But he was always so associated in my thoughts more with heaven
than earth, that scarcely a transition seems to have passed upon his
locality. 'Present with the Lord' is true of him now; even as 'having
his conversation in heaven' was formerly. There is little difference.
May it be so with us all, with you and with me, my ever and very dear
friend! In the meantime do not forget me. I never can forget _you_.
Your affectionate and grateful
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
Arabel desires her love to be offered to you.
_To H.S. Boyd_
1 Beacon Terrace, Torquay: July 8, 1840.
My ever dear Friend,--I must write to you, although it is so very
long, or at least seems so, since you wrote to me. But you say to
Arabel in speaking of me that I '_used_ to care for what is poetical;'
therefore, perhaps you say to yourself sometimes that I _used_ to
care for _you_! I am anxious to vindicate my identity to you, in that
respect above all.
It is a long, dreary time since I wrote to you. I admit the pause on
my own part, while I charge you with another. But _your_ silence has
embraced more pleasantness and less suffering to you than mine has to
me, and I thank God for a prosperity in which my unchangeable regard
for you causes me to share directly....
I have not rallied this summer as soon and well as I did last. I was
very ill early in April at the time of our becoming conscious to our
great affliction--so ill as to believe it utterly improbable, speaking
humanly, that I ever should be any better. I am, however, a very great
deal better, and gain strength by sensible degrees, however slowly,
and do hope for the best--'the best' meaning one sight more of London.
In the meantime I have not yet been able to leave my bed.
To prove to you that I who 'used to care' for poetry do so still, and
that I have not been absolutely idle lately, an 'Athenaeum' shall
be sent to you containing a poem on the subject of the removal of
Napoleon's ashes. It is a fitter subject for you than for me.
Napoleon is no idol of _mine. I_ never made a 'setting sun' of him.
But my physician suggested the subject as a noble one and then there
was something suggestive in the consideration that the 'Bellerophon'
lay on those very bay-waters opposite to my bed.
Another poem (which you won't like, I dare say) is called 'The Lay of
the Rose,' and appeared lately in a magazine. Arabel is going to
write it out for you, she desires me to tell you with her best love.
Indeed, I have written lately (as far as manuscript goes) a good deal,
only on all sorts of subjects and in as many shapes.
Lazarus would make a fine poem, wouldn't he? I lie here, weaving a
great many schemes. I am seldom at a loss for thread.
Do write sometimes to me, and tell me if you do anything besides
hearing the clocks strike and bells ring. My beloved papa is with me
still. There are so many mercies close around me (and his presence
is far from the least), that God's _Being_ seems proved to me,
_demonstrated_ to me, by His manifested love. May His blessing in
the full lovingness rest upon you always! Never fancy I can forget or
think of you coldly.
Your affectionate and grateful
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
[Footnote 54: 'Crowned and Buried' _(Poetical Works_, iii. 9).]
[Footnote 55: _Poetical Works_, iii. 152.]
The above letter was written only three days before the tragedy which
utterly wrecked Elizabeth Barrett's life for a time, and cast a
deep shadow over it which never wholly passed away--the death of her
brother Edward through drowning. On July 11, he and two friends had
gone for a sail in a small boat. They did not return when they were
expected, and presently a rumour came that a boat, answering in
appearance to theirs, had been seen to founder in Babbicombe Bay;
but it was not until three days later that final confirmation of the
disaster was obtained by the discovery of the bodies. What this blow
meant to the bereaved sister cannot be told: the horror with which she
refers to it, even at a distance of many years, shows how deeply it
struck. It was the loss of the brother whom she loved best of all; and
she had the misery of thinking that it was to attend on her that he
had come to the place where he met his death. Little wonder if Torquay
was thenceforward a memory from which she shrank, and if even the
sound of the sea became a horror to her.
One natural consequence of this terrible sorrow is a long break in her
correspondence. It is not until the beginning of 1841 that she seems
to have resumed the thread of her life and to have returned to her
literary occupations. Her health had inevitably suffered under the
shock, and in the autumn of 1840 Miss Mitford speaks of not daring to
expect more than a few months of lingering life. But when things were
at the worst, she began unexpectedly to take a turn for the better.
Through the winter she slowly gathered strength, and with strength the
desire to escape from Torquay, with its dreadful associations, and
to return to London. Meanwhile her correspondence with her friends
revived, and with Horne in particular she was engaged during 1841 in
an active interchange of views with regard to two literary projects.
Indeed, it was only the return to work that enabled her to struggle
against the numbing effect of the calamity which had overwhelmed her.
Some time afterwards (in October 1843) she wrote to Mrs. Martin:
'For my own part and experience--I do not say it as a phrase or
in exaggeration, but from very clear and positive conviction--I do
believe that I should be _mad_ at this moment, if I had not forced
back--dammed out--the current of rushing recollections by work, work,
work.' One of the projects in which she was concerned was 'Chaucer
Modernised,' a scheme for reviving interest in the father of English
poetry, suggested in the first instance by Wordsworth, but committed
to the care of Horne, as editor, for execution. According to the
scheme as originally planned, all the principal poets of the day were
to be invited to share the task of transmuting Chaucer into modern
language. Wordsworth, Leigh Hunt, Horne, and others actually executed
some portions of the work; Tennyson and Browning, it was hoped, would
lend a hand with some of the later parts. Horne invited Miss Barrett
to contribute, and, besides executing modernisations of 'Queen
Annelida and False Arcite' and 'The Complaint of Annelida,' she
also advised generally on the work of the other writers during its
progress through the press. The other literary project was for a
lyrical drama, to be written in collaboration with Horne. It was to be
called 'Psyche Apocalypte,' and was to be a drama on the Greek model,
treating of the birth and self-realisation of the soul of man.
[Footnote 56: These versions are not reprinted in her collected
_Poetical Works_, but are to be found in 'Poems of Geoffrey Chaucer
The sketch of its contents, given in the correspondence with Horne,
will make the modern reader accept with equanimity the fact that it
never progressed beyond the initial stage of drafting the plot. It is
allegorical, philosophical, fantastic, unreal--everything which was
calculated to bring out the worst characteristics of Miss Barrett's
style and to intensify her faults. Fortunately her removal from
Torquay to London interrupted the execution of the scheme. It
was never seriously taken up again, and, though never explicitly
abandoned, died a natural death from inanition, somewhat to the relief
of Miss Barrett, who had come to recognise its impracticability.
Apart from the correspondence with Horne, which has been published
elsewhere, very few letters are left from this period; but those which
here follow serve to bridge over the interval until the departure
from Torquay, which closes one well-marked period in the life of the
_To Mrs. Martin_
December 11, 1840.
My ever dearest Mrs. Martin,--I should have written to you without
this last proof of your remembrance--this cape, which, warm and pretty
as it is, I value so much more as the work of your hands and gift of
your affection towards me. Thank you, dearest Mrs. Martin, and thank
you too for _all the rest_--for all your sympathy and love. And do
believe that although grief had so changed me from myself and warped
me from my old instincts, as to prevent my looking forwards with
pleasure to seeing you again, yet that full amends are made in the
looking back with a pleasure more true because more tender than any
old retrospections. Do give my love to dear Mr. Martin, and say what I
could not have said even if I had seen him.
Shall you really, dearest Mrs. Martin, come again? Don't think we do
not think of the hope you left us. Because we do indeed.
A note from papa has brought the comforting news that my dear, dear
Stormie is in England again, in London, and looking perfectly well. It
is a mercy which makes me very thankful, and would make me joyful if
anything could. But the meanings of some words change as we live on.
Papa's note is hurried. It was a sixty-day passage, and that is all he
tells me. Yes--there is something besides about Sette and Occy being
either unknown or misknown, through the fault of their growing. Papa
is not near returning, I think. He has so much to do and see, and so
much cause to be enlivened and renewed as to spirits, that I begged
him not to think about me and stay away as long as he pleased. And the
accounts of him and of all at home are satisfying, I thank God....
There is an east wind just now, which I feel. Nevertheless, Dr. Scully
has said, a few minutes since, that I am as well as he could hope,
considering the season.
May God bless you ever!
Your gratefully attached
_To Mrs. Martin_
March 29, 1841.
My dearest Mrs. Martin,--Have you thought 'The dream has come true'?
I mean the dream of the flowers which you pulled for me and I wouldn't
look at, even? I fear you must have thought that the dream about my
ingratitude has come true.
And yet it has not. Dearest Mrs. Martin, it has _not_. I have not
forgotten you or remembered you less affectionately through all the
silence, or longed less for the letters I did not ask for. But the
truth is, my faculties seem to hang heavily now, like flappers when
the spring is broken. _My_ spring _is_ broken, and a separate exertion
is necessary for the lifting up of each--and then it falls down again.
I never felt so before: there is no wonder that I should feel so now.
Nevertheless, I don't give up much to the pernicious languor--the
tendency to lie down to sleep among the snows of a weary journey--I
don't give up much to it. Only I find it sometimes at the root of
certain negligences--for instance, of this toward _you_.
Dearest Mrs. Martin, receive my sympathy, _our_ sympathy, in the
anxiety you have lately felt so painfully, and in the rejoicing for
its happy issue. Do say when you write (I take for granted, you see,
that you will write) how Mrs. B---- is now--besides the intelligence
more nearly touching me, of your own and Mr. Martin's health and
spirits. May God bless you both!
Ah! but you did not come: I was disappointed!
And Mrs. Hanford! Do you know, I tremble in my reveries sometimes,
lest you should think it, guess it to be half unkind in me not to have
made an exertion to see Mrs. Hanford. It was not from want of interest
in her--least of all from want of love to _you_. But I have not
stirred from my bed yet. But, to be honest, that was not the reason--I
did not feel as if I _could_, without a painful effort, which, on the
other hand, could not, I was conscious, result in the slightest shade
of satisfaction to her, receive and talk to her. Perhaps it is hard
for you to _fancy_ even how I shrink away from the very thought of
seeing a human face--except those immediately belonging to me in love
or relationship--(yours _does_, you know)--and a stranger's might be
easier to look at than one long known....
For my own part, my dearest Mrs. Martin, my heart has been lightened
lately by kind, _honest_ Dr. Scully (who would never give an opinion
just to please me), saying that I am 'quite right' to mean to go to
London, and shall probably be fit for the journey early in June.
He says that I may pass the winter there moreover, and with
impunity--that wherever I am it will probably be necessary for me
to remain shut up during the cold weather, and that under such
circumstances it is quite possible to warm a London room to as safe
a condition as a room _here_. So my heart is lightened of the fear
of opposition: and the only means of regaining whatever portion of
earthly happiness is not irremediably lost to me by the Divine decree,
I am free to use. In the meantime, it really does seem to me that I
make some progress in health--if the word in my lips be not a mockery.
Oh, I fancy I shall be strengthened to get home!
Your remarks on Chaucer pleased me very much. I am glad you liked what
I did--or tried to do--and as to the criticisms, you were right--and
they sha'n't be unattended to if the opportunity of correction be
given to me.
Ever your affectionate
_To H.S. Boyd_
August 28, 1841.
My very dear Friend,--I have fluctuated from one shadow of uncertainty
and anxiety to another, all the summer, on the subject to which my
last earthly wishes cling, and I delayed writing to you to be able to
say I am going to London. I may say so now--as far as the human may
say 'yes' or 'no' of their futurity. The carriage, a patent carriage
with a bed in it, and set upon some hundreds of springs, is, I
believe, on its road down to me, and immediately upon its arrival
we begin our journey. Whether we shall ever complete it remains
uncertain--_more_ so than other uncertainties. My physician appears a
good deal alarmed, calls it an undertaking full of hazard, and myself
the 'Empress Catherine' for insisting upon attempting it. But I must.
I go, as 'the doves to their windows,' to the only earthly daylight I
see here. I go to rescue myself from the associations of this dreadful
place. I go to restore to my poor papa the companionships family.
Enough has been done and suffered for _me_. I thank God I am going
home at last.
How kind it was in you, my very kind and ever very dear friend, to ask
me to visit you at Hampstead! I felt myself smiling while I read that
part of your letter, and laid it down and suffered the vision to arise
of your little room and your great Gregory and your dear self scolding
me softly as in the happy olden times for not reading slow enough.
Well--we do not know what _may_ happen! I _may_ (even that is
probable) read to you again. But now--ah, my dear friend--if you could
imagine me such as I am!--you would not think I could visit you! Yet
I am wonderfully better this summer; and if I can but reach home
and bear the first painful excitement, it will do me more good than
anything--I know it will! And if it does not, it will be _well_ even
I shall tell them to send you the 'Athenaeum' of last week, where I
have a 'House of Clouds,' which papa likes so much that he would
wish to live in it if it were not for the damp. There is not a clock
in one room--that's another objection. How are your clocks? Do they
go? and do you like their voices as well as you used to do?
I think Annie is not with you; but in case of her still being so, do
give her (and yourself too) Arabel's love and mine. I wish I heard of
you oftener. Is there nobody to write? May God bless you!
Your ever affectionate friend,
_To H.S. Boyd_
August 31, 1831 [_sic_].
Thank you, my ever dear friend, with almost my last breath at Torquay,
for your kindness about the Gregory, besides the kind note itself. It
is, however, too late. We go, or mean at present to go, to-morrow;
and the carriage which is to waft us through the air upon a thousand
springs has actually arrived. You are not to think severely upon Dr.
Scully's candour with me as to the danger of the journey. He _does_
think it 'likely to do me harm;' therefore, you know, he was justified
by his medical responsibility in laying before me all possible
consequences. I have considered them all, and dare them gladly and
gratefully. Papa's domestic comfort is broken up by the separation in
his family, and the associations of this place lie upon me, struggle
as I may, like the oppression of a perpetual night-mare. It is an
instinct of self-preservation which impels me to escape--or to try
to escape. And In God's mercy--though God forbid that I should deny
either His mercy or His justice, if He should deny me--we may be
together in Wimpole Street in a few days. Nelly Bordman has kindly
written to me Mr. Jago's favourable opinion of the patent carriages,
and his conviction of my accomplishing the journey without
May God bless you, my dear dear friend! Give my love to dearest Annie!
Perhaps, if I am ever really in Wimpole Street, _safe enough for
Greek_, you will trust the poems to me which you mention. I care as
much for poetry as ever, and could not more.
Your affectionate and grateful
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
[Footnote 57: _Poetical Works_, iii. 186.]
In September 1841 the journey from Torquay was actually achieved, and
Miss Barrett returned to her father's house in London, from which she
was never to be absent for more than a few hours at a time until the
day, five years later, when she finally left it to join her husband,
Robert Browning. Her life was that of an invalid, confined to her room
for the greater part of each year, and unable to see any but a
few intimate friends. Still, she regained some sort of strength,
especially during the warmth of the summer months, and was able to
throw herself with real interest into literary work. In a life such
as this there are few outward events to record, and its story is best
told in Miss Barrett's own letters, which, for the most part, need
little comment. The letters of the end of 1841 and beginning of 1842
are almost entirely written to Mr. Boyd, and the main subject of them
is the series of papers on the Greek Christian poets and the English
poets which, at the suggestion of Mr. Dilke, then editor of the
'Athenaeum,' she contributed to that periodical. Of the composition of
original poetry we hear less at this time.
_To H.S. Boyd_
50 Wimpole Street: October 2, 1841.
My very dear Friend,--I thank you for the letter and books which
crossed the threshold of this house before me, and looked like your
welcome to me home. I have read the passages you wished me to read--I
have read them _again_: for I remember reading them under your star
(or the greater part of them) a long while ago. You, on the other
hand, may remember of _me_, that I never could concede to you much
admiration for your Gregory as a poet--not even to his grand work 'De
Virginitate.' He is one of those writers, of whom there are instances
in our own times, who are only poetical in prose.
The passage imitative of Chryses I cannot think much of. Try to be
forgiving. It is toasted dry between the two fires of the Scriptures
and Homer, and is as stiff as any dry toast out of the simile. To be
sincere, I like dry toast better.
The Hymns and Prayers I very much prefer; and although I remembered a
good deal about them, it has given me a pleasure you will approve of
to go through them in this edition. The one which I like best, which I
like far best, which I think worth all the rest ('De Virginitate'
and all put together), is the _second_ upon page 292, beginning 'Soi
charis.' It is very fine, I think, written out of the heart and for
the heart, warm with a natural heat, and not toasted dry and brown and
stiff at a fire by any means.
Dear Mr. Boyd, I coveted Arabel's walk to you the other day. I shall
often covet my neighbour's walks, I believe, although (and may God be
praised for it!) I am more happy--that is, nearing to the feeling of
happiness now--than a month since I could believe possible to a heart
so bruised and crushed as mine has [been] be at home is a blessing and
a relief beyond what these words can say.
But, dear Mr. Boyd, you said something in a note to Arabel some little
time ago, which I will ask of your kindness to avoid saying again. I
have been through the whole summer very much better; and even if it
were not so I should dread being annoyed by more medical speculations.
Pray do not suggest any. I am not in a state to admit of experiments,
and my case is a very clear and simple one. I have not _one symptom_
like those of my old illness; and after more than fifteen years'
absolute suspension of them, their recurrence is scarcely probable. My
case is very clear: not tubercular consumption, not what is called a
'decline,' but an affection of the lungs which leans towards it. You
know a blood-vessel broke three years ago, and I never quite got over
it. Mr. Jago, not having seen me, could scarcely be justified in a
conjecture of the sort, when the opinions of four able physicians,
two of them particularly experienced in diseases of the chest, and
the other two the most eminent of the faculty in the east and west of
England, were decided and contrary, while coincident with each other.
Besides, you see, I am becoming better--and I could not desire more
than that. Dear Mr. Boyd, do not write a word about it any more,
either to me or others. I am sure you would not willingly disturb me.
Nelly Bordman is good and dear, but I can't let her prescribe for me
anything except her own affection.
I hope Arabel expressed for me my thankful sense of Mrs. Smith's kind
intention. But, indeed, although I would see _you_, dear Mr. Boyd,
gladly, or an angel or a fairy or any very particular friend, I am
not fit either in body or spirit for general society. I _can't_ see
people, and if I could it would be very bad for me. Is Mrs. Smith
writing? Are you writing? Part of me is worn out; but the poetical
part--that is, the _love_ of poetry--is growing in me as freshly and
strongly as if it were watered every day. Did anybody ever love it and
stop in the middle? I wonder if anybody ever did?... Believe me your
_To H.S. Boyd_
50 Wimpole Street: December 29, 1841.
My dear Friend,--I should not have been half as idle about
transcribing these translations if I had fancied you could care so
much to have them as Arabel tells me you do. They are recommended to
your mercy, O Greek Daniel! The _last_ sounds in my ears most like
English poetry; but I assure you I took the least pains with it. The
second is obscure as its original, if it do not (as it does not) equal
it otherwise. The first is yet more unequal to the Greek. I praised
that Greek poem above all of Gregory's, for the reason that it has
_unity and completeness_, for which, to speak generally, you may
search the streets and squares and alleys of Nazianzum in vain. Tell
me what you think of my part.
Ever affectionately yours,
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
Have you a Plotinus, and would you trust him to me in that case? Oh
no, you do not tempt me with your musical clocks. My time goes to the
best music when I read or write; and whatever money I can spend upon
my own pleasures flows away in books.
[Footnote 58: Translations of three poems of Gregory Nazianzen,
printed in the _Athenaeum_ of January 8, 1842.]
_To Mr. Westwood_
50 Wimpole Street: January 2, 1842.
Miss Barrett, inferring Mr. Westwood from the handwriting, begs his
acceptance of the unworthy little book he does her the honour of
desiring to see.
It is more unworthy than he could have expected when he expressed that
desire, having been written in very early youth, when the mind was
scarcely free in any measure from trammels and Popes, and, what is
worse, when flippancy of language was too apt to accompany immaturity
of opinion. The miscellaneous verses are, still more than the chief
poem, 'childish things' in a strict literal sense, and the whole
volume is of little interest even to its writer except for personal
reasons--except for the traces of dear affections, since rudely
wounded, and of that _love_ of poetry which began with her sooner than
so soon, and must last as long as life does, without being subject
to the changes of life. Little more, therefore, can remain for such
a volume than to be humble and shrink from circulation. Yet Mr.
Westwood's kind words win it to his hands. Will he receive at the same
moment the expression of touched and gratified feelings with which
Miss Barrett read what he wrote on the subject of her later volumes,
still very imperfect, although more mature and true to the _truth_
within? Indeed she is thankful for what he said so kindly in his note
[Footnote 59: Mr. Thomas Westwood was the author of a volume of
'Poems,' published in 1840, 'Beads from a Rosary' (1843), 'The Burden
of the Bell' (1850), and other volumes of verse. Several of his
compositions were appearing occasionally in the _Athenaeum_ at the
time when this correspondence with Miss Barrett commenced.]
[Footnote 60: The _Essay on Mind_.]
_To H.S. Boyd_
50 Wimpole Street: January 6, 1842.
My dear Friend,--I have done your bidding and sent the translations
to the 'Athenaeum,' attaching to them an infamous prefatory note which
says all sorts of harm of Gregory's poetry. You will be very angry
with it and me.
And you _may_ be angry for another reason--that in the midst of my
true thankfulness for the emendations you sent me, I ventured to
reject one or two of them. You are right, probably, and I wrong; but
still, I thought within myself with a womanly obstinacy not altogether
peculiar to me,--'If he and I were to talk together about them, he
would kindly give up the point to me--so that, now we cannot talk
together, _I might as well take it_.' Well, you will see what I have
done. Try not to be angry with me. You shall have the 'Athenaeum' as
soon as possible.
My dear Mr. Boyd, you know how I disbelieved the probability of these
papers being accepted. You will comprehend my surprise on receiving
last night a very courteous: note from the editor, which I would
send to you if it were legible to anybody except people used to
learn reading from the pyramids. He wishes me to contribute to the
'Athenaeum' some prose papers in the form of reviews--'the review
being a mere form, and the book a mere text.' He is not very
clear--but I fancy that a few translations of _excerpta_, with a prose
analysis and synthesis of the original author's genius, might suit
his purpose. Now suppose I took up some of the early Christian Greek
poets, and wrote a few continuous papers _so_? Give me your
advice, my dear friend! I think of Synesius, for one. Suppose you send
me a list of the names which occur to you! _Will_ you advise me? Will
you write directly? Will you make allowance for my teazing you? Will
you lend me your little Synesius, and Clarke's book? I mean the one
commenced by Dr. Clarke and continued by his son. Above all things,
however, I want the advice.
Ever affectionately yours,
_To H.S. Boyd_
Wednesday, January 13, 1842 (postmark).
My dear Friend,--Thank you, thank you, for your kind suggestion and
advice altogether. I had just (when your note arrived) finished two
hymns of Synesius, one being the seventh and the other the ninth.
Oh! I do remember that you performed upon the latter, and my modesty
should have certainly bid me 'avaunt' from it. Nevertheless, it is so
fine, so prominent in the first class of Synesius's beauties, that I
took courage and dismissed my scruples, and have produced a version
which I have not compared to yours at all hitherto, but which probably
is much rougher and _rather_ closer, winning in faith what it loses
in elegance. 'Elegance' isn't a word for me, you know, generally
speaking. The barbarians herd with me, 'by two and three.'
I had a letter to-day from Mr. Dilke, who agrees to everything, closes
with the idea about 'Christian Greek poets' (only begging me to keep
away from theology), and suggesting a subsequent reviewal of English
poetical literature, from Chaucer down to our times. Well, but
the Greek poets. With all your kindness, I have scarcely sufficient
materials for a full and minute survey of them. I have won a sight of
the 'Poetae Christiani,' but the price is ruinous--_fourteen guineas_,
and then the work consists almost entirely of Latin poets, deducting
Gregory and Nonnus, and John Damascenus, and a cento from Homer by
somebody or other. Turning the leaves rapidly, I do not see much else;
and you know I may get a separate copy of John Dam., and have access
to the rest. Try to turn in your head what I should do. Greg. Nyssen
did not write poems, did he? Have I a chance of seeing your copy of
Mr. Clarke's book? It would be useful in the matters of chronology.
I humbly beg your pardon, and Gregory's, for the insolence of my note.
It was as brief as it could be, and did not admit of any extended
reference and admiration to his qualities as an orator. But whoever
read it to you should have explained that when I wrote 'He was an
orator,' the word _orator_ was marked emphatically, so as to appear
printed in capital letters of emphasis. Do not say 'you _chose_,' 'you
_chose_.' I didn't and don't choose to be obstinate, indeed; but I
can't see the sense of that 'heavenly soul.'
Ever your grateful and affectionate
I shall have room for praising Gregory in these papers.
[Footnote 61: The series of papers on the Greek Christian Poets
appeared in the _Athenaeum_ for February and March 1842; they are
reprinted in the _Poetical Works_, v. 109-200.]
[Footnote 62: This scheme took shape in the series of papers on the
English Poets which appeared in the _Athenaeum_ in the course of June
and August 1842 (reprinted in _Poetical Works_, v. 201-290).]
_To H.S. Boyd_
February 4, 1842.
My dear Friend,--You must be thinking, if you are not a St. Boyd for
good temper, that among the Gregorys and Synesiuses I have forgotten
everything about you. No; indeed it has not been so. I have never
_stopped_ being grateful to you for your kind notes, and the two last
pieces of Gregory, although I did not say an overt 'Thank you;' but
I have been very very busy besides, and thus I answered to myself for
your being kind enough to pardon a silence which was compelled rather
Do you ever observe that as vexations don't come alone, occupations
don't, and that, if you happen to be engaged upon one particular
thing, it is the signal for your being waylaid by bundles of letters
desiring immediate answers, and proof sheets or manuscript works whose
writers request your opinion while their 'printer waits'? The old
saints are not responsible for all the filling up of my time. I have
been _busy upon busy_.
The first part of my story about the Greek poets went to the
'Athenaeum' some days ago, but, although graciously received by the
editor, it won't appear this week, or I should have had a proof sheet
(which was promised to me) before now. I must contrive to include all
I have to say on the subject in _three parts_. They will admit, they
tell me, a fourth _if I please_, but evidently they would prefer as
much brevity as I could vouchsafe. Only two poets are in the first
notice, and _twenty_ remain--and neither of the two is Gregory.
Will you let me see that volume of Gregory which contains the
'Christus Patiens'? Send it by any boy on the heath, and I will
remunerate him for the walk and the burden, and thank you besides. Oh,
don't be afraid! I am not going to charge it upon Gregory, but on the
younger Apollinaris, whose claim is stronger, and I rather wish to
refresh my recollection of the height and breadth of that tragic
It is quite true that I never have suffered much pain, and equally so
that I continue most decidedly better, notwithstanding the winter. I
feel, too--I do hope not ungratefully--the blessing granted to me in
the possibility of literary occupation,--which is at once occupation
and distraction. Carlyle (not the infidel, but the philosopher) calls
literature a 'fireproof pleasure.' How truly! How deeply I have felt
May God bless you, dear Mr. Boyd. I don't despair of looking in your
face one day yet before my last.
Ever your affectionate and obliged
_To H.S. Boyd_
March 2, 1842.
My ever very dear Friend,--Do receive the assurance that whether I
leave out the right word or put in the wrong one, you never can be
other to me than just _that_ while I live, and why not after I have
ceased to live? And now--what have I done in the meantime, to be
called 'Miss Barrett'? 'I pause for a reply.'
Of course it gives me very great pleasure to hear you speak so kindly
of my first paper. Some _bona avis_ as good as a nightingale must have
shaken its wings over me as I began it; and if it will but sit on
the same spray while I go on towards the end, I shall rejoice exactly
four-fold. The third paper went to Mr. Dilke to-day, and I was so
fidgety about getting it away (and it seemed to cling to my writing
case with both its hands), that I would not do any writing, even as
little as this note, until it was quite gone out of sight. You know it
is possible that he, the editor, may not please to have the _fourth_
paper; but even in that case, it is better for the 'Remarks' to remain
fragmentary, than be compressed till they are as dry as a _hortus
siccus_ of poets.
Certainly you do and must praise my number one too much. Number one
(that's myself) thinks so. I do really; and the supererogatory virtue
of kindness may be acknowledged out of the pale of the Romish Church.
In regard to Gregory and Synesius, you will see presently that I have
not wronged them altogether.
As you have ordered the 'Athenaeums,' I will not send one to-morrow
so as to repeat my ill fortune of being too late. But tell me if you
would like to have any from me, and how many.
It was very kind in you to pat Flush's head in defiance of danger
and from pure regard for me. I kissed his head where you had patted
it; which association of approximations I consider as an imitation
of shaking hands with you and as the next best thing to it. You
understand--don't you?--that Flush is my constant companion, my
friend, my amusement, lying with his head on one page of my folios
while I read the other. (Not _your_ folios--I respect _your_ books,
be sure.) Oh, I dare say, if the truth were known, Flush understands
Greek excellently well.
I hope you are right in thinking that we shall meet again. Once I
wished _not_ to live, but the faculty of life seems to have sprung up
in me again, from under the crushing foot of heavy grief.
Be it all as God wills.
Believe me, your ever affectionate
[Footnote 63: Miss Barrett's dog, the gift of Miss Mitford. His praise
is sung in her poem, 'To Flush, my Dog' (_Poetical Works_, iii. 19),
and in many of the following letters. He accompanied his mistress to
Italy, lived to a good old age, and now lies buried in the vaults of
_To H.S. Boyd_
Saturday night, March 5, 1842.
My very dear Friend,--I am quite angry with myself for forgetting your
questions when I answered your letter.
Could you really imagine that I have not looked into the Greek
tragedians for years, with my true love for Greek poetry? That is
asking a question, you will say, and not answering it. Well, then,
I answer by a 'Yes' the one you put to me. I had two volumes of
Euripides with me in Devonshire, and have read him as well as
Aeschylus and Sophocles--that is _from_ them--both before and since
I went there. You know I have gone through every line of the three
tragedians long ago, in the way of regular, consecutive reading.
You know also that I had at different times read different dialogues
of Plato; but when three years ago, and a few months previous to my
leaving home, I became possessed of a complete edition of his works,
edited by Bekker, why then I began with the first volume and went
through the whole of his writings, both those I knew and those I did
not know, one after another: and have at this time read, not only all
that is properly attributed to Plato, but even those dialogues and
epistles which pass falsely under his name--everything except two
books I think, or three, of the treatise 'De Legibus,' which I shall
finish in a week or two, as soon as I can take breath from Mr. Dilke.
Now the questions are answered.
Ever your affectionate and grateful friend,
_To H.S. Boyd_
Thursday, March 10, 1842 [postmark].
My very dear Friend,--I did not know until to-day whether the paper
would appear on Saturday or not; but as I have now received the proof
sheets, there can be no doubt of it. I have been and _am_ hurried and
hunted almost into a corner through the pressing for the fourth paper,
and the difficulty about books. You will forgive a very short note to
I have read of Aristotle only his Poetics, his Ethics, and his work
upon Rhetoric, but I mean to take him regularly into both hands when I
finish Plato's last page. Aristophanes I took with me into Devonshire;
and after all, I do not know much more of _him_ than three or four of
his plays may stand for. Next week, my very dear friend, I shall be at
your commands, and sit in spirit at your footstool, to hear and answer
anything you may care to ask me--but oh! what have I done that you
should talk to _me_ about 'venturing,' or 'liberty,' or anything of
From your affectionate and grateful catechumen,
_To H.S. Boyd_.
March 29, 1842.
My very dear Friend,--I received your long letter and receive your
short one, and thank you for the pleasure of both. Of course I am very
_very_ glad of your approval in the matter of the papers, and your
kindness could not have wished to give me more satisfaction than
it gave actually. Mr. Kenyon tells me that Mr. Burgess has been
reading and commending the papers, and has brought me from him a newly
discovered scene of the 'Bacchae' of Euripides, edited by Mr. Burgess
himself for the 'Gentlemen's Magazine,' and of which he considers that
the 'Planctus Mariae,' at least the passage I extracted from it, is an
imitation. Should you care to see it? Say 'Yes,'--and I will send it
Do you think it was wrong to make _eternity_ feminine? I knew that
the Greek word was not feminine; but imagined that the English
personification should be so. Am I wrong in this? Will you consider
the subject again?
Ah, yes! That was a mistake of mine about putting Constantine for
Constantius. I wrote from memory, and the memory betrayed me. But say
nothing about it. Nobody will find it out. I send you Silentiarius and
some poems of Pisida in the same volume. Even if you had not asked for
them, I should have asked you to look at some passages which are fine
in both. It appears to me that Silentiarius writes difficult Greek,
overlaying his description with a multitude of architectural and
other far fetched words! Pisida is hard, too, occasionally, from other
causes, particularly in the 'Hexaemeron,' which is not in the book
I send you but in another very gigantic one (as tall as the Irish
giants), which you may see if you please. I will send a coach and six
with it if you please.
John Mauropus, of the Three Towns, I owe the knowledge of to _you.
You_ lent me the book with his poems, you know. He is a great favorite
of mine in all ways. I very much admire his poetry.
Believe me, ever your affectionate and grateful
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
Pray tell me what you think. I am sorry to observe that the book I
send you is marked very irregularly; that is, marked in some places,
unmarked in others, just as I happened to be near or far from
my pencil and inkstand. Otherwise I should have liked to compare
judgments with you.
Keep the book as long as you please; it is my own.
[Footnote 64: George Burges, the classical scholar. He had in 1832
contributed to the _Gentleman's Magazine_ (under a pseudonym) some
lines purporting to be a newly discovered portion of the _Bacchae_,
but really composed by himself on the basis of a parallel passage
in the _Christus Patiens_. It is apparently to these lines that Miss
Barrett alludes, though the 'discovery' was then nearly ten years
_To H.S. Boyd_
50 Wimpole Street: April 2, 1842.
My very dear Friend,--... As to your kind desire to hear whatever in
the way of favorable remark I have gathered together for fruit of my
papers, I put on a veil and tell you that Mr. Kenyon thought it well
done, although 'labour thrown away, from the unpopularity of
the subject;' that Miss Mitford was very much pleased, with the
warmheartedness common to her; that Mrs. Jamieson [_sic_] read them
'with great pleasure' unconsciously of the author; and that Mr. Home
the poet and Mr. Browning the poet were not behind in approbation. Mr.
Browning is said to be learned in Greek, especially in the dramatists;
and of Mr. Home I should suspect something similar. Miss Mitford and
Mrs. Jamieson, although very gifted and highly cultivated women,
are not Grecians, and therefore judge the papers simply as English
The single unfavorable opinion _is_ Mr. Hunter's, who thinks that
the criticisms are not given with either sufficient seriousness or
diffidence, and that there is a painful sense of effort through the
whole. Many more persons may say so whose voices I do not hear. I am
glad that yours, my dear indulgent friend, is not one of them.
Believe me, your ever affectionate
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
_To H.S. Boyd_
May 17, 1842.
My very dear Friend,--Have you thought all unkindness out of my
silence? Yet the inference is not a true one, however it may look in
You do not like Silentiarius _very much_ (that is _my_ inference),
since you have kept him so short a time. And I quite agree with you
that he is not a poet of the same interest as Gregory Nazianzen,
however he may appear to me of more lofty cadence in his
versification. My own impression is that John of Euchaita is worth two
of each of them as a poet. His poems strike me as standing in the very
first class of the productions of the Christian centuries. Synesius
and John of Euchaita! I shall always think of those two together--not
by their similarity, but their dignity.
I return you the books you lent me with true thanks, and also those
which Mrs. Smith, I believe, left in your hands for me. I thank _you_
for them, and _you_ must be good enough to thank _her_. They were of
use, although of a rather sublime indifference for poets generally....
I shall send you soon the series of the Greek papers you asked for,
and also perhaps the first paper of a Survey of the English Poets,
under the pretence of a review of 'The Book of the Poets,' a
bookseller's selection published lately. I begin from Langland, of
Piers Plowman and the Malvern Hills. The first paper went to the
editor last week, and I have heard nothing as to whether it will
appear on Saturday or not, and perhaps if it does you won't care
to have it sent to you. Tell me if you do or don't. I have suffered
unpleasantly in the heart lately from this tyrannous dynasty of east
winds, but have been well otherwise, and am better, in _that_. Flushie
means to bark the next time he sees you in revenge for what you say of
Good bye, dear Mr. Boyd; think of me as
Your ever affectionate
_To H.S. Boyd_
June 3, 1842.
My very dear Friend,--I disobeyed you in not simply letting you know