Part 4 out of 9
into the unseen, and not one of those poets has insulted his own
genius by the production of whole poems, such as I could name of
Wordsworth's, the vulgarity of which is childish, and the childishness
vulgar. Still, the wings of his genius are wide enough to cast a
shadow over its feet, and our gratitude should be stronger than our
critical acumen. Yes, I _will_ be a blind admirer of Wordsworth's. I
_will_ shut my eyes and be blind. Better so, than see too well for the
thankfulness which is his due from me....
Yes, I mean to print as much as I can find and make room for, 'Brown
Rosary' and all. I am glad you liked 'Napoleon,' but I shall be
more glad if you decide when you see this new book that I have made
some general progress in strength and expression. Sometimes I rise
into hoping that I may have done so, or may do so still more.
The poet's work is no light work. His wheat will not grow without
labour any more than other kinds of wheat, and the sweat of the
spirit's brow is wrung by a yet harder necessity. And, thinking so, I
am inclined to a little regret that you should have hastened your book
even for the sake of a sentiment. Now you will be angry with me....
There are certain difficulties in the way of the critic
unprofessional, as I know by experience. Our most sweet voices
are scarcely admissible among the most sour ones of the regular
Harriet Martineau is quite well,'trudging miles together in the snow,'
when the snow was, and in great spirits. Wordsworth is to be in London
in the spring. Tennyson is dancing the polka and smoking cloud upon
cloud at Cheltenham. Robert Browning is meditating a new poem, and an
excursion on the Continent. Miss Mitford came to spend a day with me
some ten days ago; sprinkled, as to the soul, with meadow dews. Am I
at the end of my account? I think so.
Did you read 'Blackwood'? and in that case have you had deep delight
in an exquisite paper by the Opium-eater, which my heart trembled
through from end to end? What a poet that man is! how he vivifies
words, or deepens them, and gives them profound significance....
I understand that poor Hood is supposed to be dying, really dying, at
last. Sydney Smith's last laugh mixes with his, or nearly so. But
Hood had a deeper heart, in one sense, than Sydney Smith, and is the
material of a greater man.
And what are you doing? Writing--reading--or musing of either? Are you
a reviewer-man--in opposition to the writer? Once, reviewing was my
besetting sin, but now it is only my frailty. Now that I lie here
at the mercy of every reviewer, I save myself by an instinct of
self-preservation from that 'gnawing tooth' (as Homer and Aeschylus
did rightly call it), and spring forward into definite work and
thought. Else, I should perish. Do you understand that? If you are a
reviewer-man you will, and if not, you must set it down among those
mysteries of mine which people talk of as profane.
May God bless you, &c. &c.
[Footnote 88: In the _Athenaeum_.]
[Footnote 89: 'Crowned and Buried' (_Poetical Works_, iii. 9).]
_To Mr. Westwood_
You know as well as I do how the plague of rhymers, and of bad rhymes,
is upon the land, and it was only three weeks ago that, at a 'Literary
Institute' at Brighton, I heard of the Reverend somebody Stoddart
gravely proposing 'Poetry for the Million' to his audience; he
assuring them that 'poets made a mystery of their art,' but that in
fact nothing except an English grammar, and a rhyming dictionary, and
some instruction about counting on the fingers, was necessary in order
to make a poet of any man!
_This_ is a fact. And to this extent has the art, once called divine,
been desecrated among the educated classes of our country.
Very sincerely yours,
Besides the poems, to which reference has been made in the above
letters, Miss Barrett was engaged, during the year 1843, in
co-operating with her friend Mr. Home in the production of his great
critical enterprise, 'The New Spirit of the Age.' In this the much
daring author undertook no less a task than that of passing a sober
and serious judgment on his principal living comrades in the world of
letters. Not unnaturally he ended by bringing a hornets' nest about
his ears--alike of those who thought they should have been mentioned
and were not, and of those who were mentioned but in terms which did
not satisfy the good opinion of themselves with which Providence had
been pleased to gift them. The volumes appeared under Home's name
alone, and he took the whole responsibility; but he invited assistance
from others, and in particular used the collaboration of Miss Barrett
to no small extent. She did not indeed contribute any complete essay
to his work; but she expressed her opinion, when invited, on several
writers, in a series of elaborate letters, which were subsequently
worked up by Home into his own criticisms. The secret of her
cooperation was carefully kept, and she does not appear to have
suffered any of the evil consequences of his indiscretions, real or
imagined. Another contribution from her consisted of the suggestion of
mottoes appropriate to each writer noticed at length; and in this work
she had an unknown collaborator in the person of Robert Browning. So
ends the somewhat uneventful year of 1843.
[Footnote 90: Her contributions to the essays on Tennyson and Carlyle
have recently been printed in Messrs. Nichols and Wise's _Literary
Anecdotes of the Nineteenth Century_, i. 33, ii. 105.]
The year 1844 marks an important epoch in the life of Mrs. Browning.
It was in this year that, as a result of the publication of her two
volumes of 'Poems,' she won her general and popular recognition as a
poetess whose rank was with the foremost of living writers. It was six
years since she had published a volume of verse; and in the meanwhile
she had been gaining strength and literary experience. She had tried
her wings in the pages of popular periodicals. She had profited by
the criticisms on her earlier work, and by intercourse with men of
letters; and though her defects in literary art were by no means
purged away, yet the flights of her inspiration were stronger and
more assured. The result is that, although the volumes of 1844 do not
contain absolutely her best work--no one with the 'Sonnets from the
Portuguese' in his mind can affirm so much as that--they contain that
which has been most generally popular, and which won her the position
which for the rest of her life she held in popular estimation among
the leaders of English poetry.
The principal poem in these two volumes is the 'Drama of Exile.' Of
the genesis of this work, Miss Barrett gives the following account in
a letter to Home, dated December 28 1843:
'A volume full of manuscripts had been ready for more than a year,
when suddenly, a short time ago, when I fancied I had no heavier work
than to make copy and corrections, I fell upon a fragment of a sort
of masque on "The First Day's Exile from Eden"--or rather it fell upon
me, and beset me till I would finish it.'
[Footnote 91: _Letters to R.H. Home_, ii. 146.]
At one time it was intended to use its name as the title to the two
volumes; but this design was abandoned, and they appeared under the
simple description of 'Poems, by Elizabeth Barrett Barrett.' The
'Vision of Poets' comes next in length to the 'Drama'; and among the
shorter pieces were several which rank among her best work, 'The Cry
of the Children,' 'Wine of Cyprus,' 'The Dead Pan,' 'Bertha in the
Lane,' 'Crowned and Buried,' 'The Mourning Mother,' and 'The Sleep,'
together with such popular favourites as 'Lady Geraldine's Courtship,'
'The Romaunt of the Page,' and 'The Rhyme of the Duchess May.' Since
the publication of 'The Seraphim' volume, the new era of poetry had
developed itself to a notable extent. Tennyson had published the
best of his earlier verse, 'Locksley Hall,' 'Ulysses,' the 'Morte
d'Arthur,' 'The Lotus Eaters,' 'A Dream of Fair Women,' and many more;
Browning had issued his wonderful series of 'Bells and Pomegranates,'
including 'Pippa Passes,' 'King Victor and King Charles,' 'Dramatic
Lyrics,' 'The Return of the Druses,' and 'The Blot on the 'Scutcheon';
and it was among company such as this that Miss Barrett, by general
consent, now took her place.
_To Mrs. Martin_
January 8, 1844.
Thank you again and again, my dearest Mrs. Martin, for your flowers,
and the verses which gave them another perfume. The 'incense of the
heart' lost not a grain of its perfume in coming so far, and not a
leaf of the flowers was ruffled, and to see such gorgeous colours all
on a sudden at Christmas time was like seeing a vision, and almost
made Flush and me rub our eyes. Thank you, dearest Mrs. Martin; how
kind of you! The grace of the verses and the brightness of the flowers
were too much for me altogether. And when George exclaimed, 'Why, she
has certainly laid bare her greenhouse,' I had not a word to say in
justification of myself for being the cause of it.
Papa admired the branch of Australian origin so much that he walked
all over the house with it. Beautiful it is indeed; but my eyes turn
back to the camellias. I do believe that I like to look at a camellia
better than at a rose; and then _these_ have a double association....
I meant to write a long letter to you to-day, but Mr. Kenyon has
been to see me and cut my time short before post time. You remember,
perhaps, how his brother married a German, and, after an exile of many
years in Germany, returned last summer to England to settle. Well, he
can't bear us any longer! His wife is growing paler and paler with the
pressure of English social habits, or rather unsocial habits; and he
himself is a German at heart; and besides, being a man of a singularly
generous nature, and accustomed to give away in handfuls of silver
and gold one-third of every year's income, he dislikes the social
obligation of _spending_ it here. So they are going back. Poor Mr.
Kenyon! I am full of sympathy with him. This returning to England
was a dream of all last year to him. He gave up his house to the new
comers, and bought a new one; and talked of the brightness secured to
his latter years by the presence of his only remaining near relative;
and I see that, for all his effort towards a bright view of the
matter, he is disappointed--very. Should you suppose that four hundred
pounds in Vienna go as far as a thousand in England? I should never
have fancied it.
You shall hear from me, my dearest Mrs. Martin, in another few days;
and I send this as it is, just because I am benighted by the post
hour, and do not like to pass your kindness with even one day's
May God bless you and dear Mr. Martin. The kindest wishes for the long
slope of coming year, and for the many, I trust, beyond it, belong to
you from the deepest of our hearts.
But shall you not be coming--setting out--very soon, before I can
_To John Kenyan_
I am so sorry, dear Mr. Kenyon, to hear--which I did, last night, for
the first time--of your being unwell. I had hoped that to-day would
bring a better account, but your note, with its next week prospect, is
disappointing. The 'ignominy' would have been very preferable--to us,
at least, particularly as it need not have lasted beyond to-day,
dear Georgie being quite recovered, and at his law again, and no more
symptoms of small-pox in anybody. We should all be well, if it were
not for me and my cough, which is better, but I am not quite well, nor
have yet been out.
A letter came to me from dear Miss Mitford a few days since, which
I had hoped to talk to you about. Some of the subject of it is Mr.
Kenyon's '_only fault_,' which ought, of course, to be a large one to
weigh against the multitudinous ones of other people, but which seems
to be: 'He has the habit of walking in without giving notice. He
thinks it saves trouble, whereas in a small family, and at a distance
from a town, the effect is that one takes care to be provided for the
whole time that one expects him, and then, by some exquisite ill luck,
on the only day when one's larder is empty, in he comes!' And so, if
you have not written to interrupt her in this process of indefinite
expectation, the 'only fault' will, in her eyes, grow, as it ought, as
large as fifty others.
I do hope, dear Mr. Kenyon, soon to hear that you are better--and
well--and that your course of prophecy may not run smooth all through
Very truly yours,
_To John Kenyon_
Saturday night [about March 1844].
I return Mr. Burges's criticism, which I omitted to talk to you of
this morning, but which interested me much in the reading. Do let him
understand how obliged to him I am for permitting me to look, for a
moment, according to his view of the question. Perhaps my poetical
sense is not convinced all through, and certainly my critical sense
is not worth convincing, but I am delighted to be able to call by
the name of Aeschylus, under the authority of Mr. Burges, those noble
electrical lines (electrical for double reasons) which had struck
me twenty times as Aeschylean, when I read them among the recognised
fragments of Sophocles. You hear Aeschylus's footsteps and voice in
the lines. No other of the gods could tread so heavily, or speak so
I wrote all this to begin with, hesitating how else to begin. My
very dear and kind friend, you understand--do you not?--through an
expression which, whether written or spoken, must remain imperfect, to
what deep, full feeling of gratitude your kindness has moved me.
The good you have done me, and just at the moment when I should have
failed altogether without it, and in more than one way, and in a
deeper than the obvious degree--all this I know better than you do,
and I thank you for it from the bottom of my heart. I shall never
forget it, as long as I live to remember anything. The book may fail
signally after all--_that_ is another question; but I shall not fail,
to begin with, and _that_ I owe to _you_, for I was falling to pieces
in nerves and spirits when you came to help me. I had only enough
instinct left to be ashamed, a little, afterwards, of having sent you,
in company, too, with Miss Martineau's heroic cheerfulness, that note
of weak because unavailing complaint. It was a long compressed feeling
breaking suddenly into words. Forgive and forget that I ever so
troubled you--no, 'troubled' is not the word for your kindness!--and
remember, as I shall do, the great good you have done me.
May God bless you, my dear cousin.
Affectionately yours always,
[Footnote 92: Referring to Mr. Kenyon's encouraging comments on the
'Drama of Exile,' which he had seen in manuscript at a time when Miss
Barrett was very despondent about it.]
This note is not to be answered.
I am thinking of writing to Moxon, as there does not seem much to
arrange. The type and size of Tennyson's books seem, upon examination,
to suit my purpose excellently.
_To John Kenyan_
March 21, 1844.
No, you never sent me back Miss Martineau's letter, my dear cousin;
but you will be sure, or rather Mr. Crabb Robinson will, to find it in
some too safe a place; and then I shall have it. In the meantime here
are the other letters back again. You will think that I was keeping
them for a deposit, a security, till I 'had my ain again,' but I have
only been idle and busy together. They are the most interesting that
can be, and have quite delighted me. By the way, _I_, who saw nothing
to object to in the 'Life in the Sick Room,' object very much to her
argument in behalf of it--an argument certainly founded on a miserable
misapprehension of the special doctrine referred to in her letter.
There is nothing so elevating and ennobling to the nature and mind
of man as the view which represents it raised into communion with God
Himself, by the justification and purification of God Himself. Plato's
dream brushed by the gate of this doctrine when it walked highest, and
won for him the title of 'Divine.' That it is vulgarised sometimes by
narrow-minded teachers in theory, and by hypocrites in action, might
be an argument (if admitted at all) against all truth, poetry, and
On the other hand, I was glad to see the leaning on the Education
question; in which all my friends the Dissenters did appear to me so
painfully wrong and so unworthily wrong at once.
And Southey's letters! I did quite delight in _them_! They are more
_personal_ than any I ever saw of his; and have more warm every-day
life in them.
The particular Paul Pry in question (to come down to _my_ life) never
'intrudes.' It is his peculiarity. And I put the stop exactly where I
was bid; and was going to put Gabriel's speech, only--with the
pen in my hand to do it--I found that the angel was a little too
exclamatory altogether, and that he had cried out, 'O ruined earth!'
and 'O miserable angel!' just before, approaching to the habit of a
mere caller of names. So I altered the passage otherwise; taking care
of your full stop after 'despair.' Thank you, my dear Mr. Kenyon.
Also I sent enough manuscript for the first sheet, and a note to
Moxon yesterday, last night, thanking him for his courtesy about Leigh
Hunt's poems; and following your counsel in every point. 'Only last
night,' you will say! But I have had _such_ a headache--and some very
painful vexation in the prospect of my maid's leaving me, who has been
with me throughout my illness; so that I am much attached to her,
with the best reasons for being so, while the idea of a stranger is
scarcely tolerable to me under my actual circumstances.
The 'Palm Leaves' are full of strong thought and good
thought--thought expressed excellently well; but of poetry, in
the true sense, and of imagination in any, I think them bare and
cold--somewhat wintry leaves to come from the East, surely, surely!
May the change of air be rapid in doing you good--the weather seems to
be softening on purpose for you. May God bless you, dear Mr. Kenyon;
I never can thank you enough. When you return I shall be rustling my
'proofs' about you, to prove my faith in your kindness.
Ever affectionately yours,
[Footnote 93: In the 'Drama of Exile,' near the beginning (_Poetical
Works_, i. 7).]
[Footnote 94: By Monckton Milnes, afterwards Lord Houghton.]
_To H.S. Boyd_
March 22, 1844.
My dearest Mr. Boyd,--I heard that once I wrote three times too long
a letter to you; I am aware that nine times too long a silence is
scarcely the way to make up for it. Forgive me, however, as far as you
can, for every sort of fault. When I once begin to write to you, I do
not know how to stop; and I have had so much to do lately as scarcely
to know how to begin to write to you. _Hence these_ faults--not quite
tears--in spite of my penitence and the quotation.
At last my book is in the press. My great poem (in the modest
comparative sense), my 'Masque of Exile' (as I call it at last),
consists of some nineteen hundred or two thousand lines, and I call it
'Masque of _Exile_' because it refers to Lucifer's exile, and to that
other mystical exile of the Divine Being which was the means of the
return homewards of my Adam and Eve. After the exultation of boldness
of composition, I fell into one of my deepest fits of despondency, and
at last, at the end of most painful vacillations, determined not to
print it. Never was a manuscript so near the fire as my 'Masque' was.
I had not even the instinct of applying for help to anybody. In the
midst of this Mr. Kenyon came in by accident, and asked about my poem.
I told him that I had given it up, despairing of my republic. In the
kindest way he took it into his hands, and proposed to carry it home
and read it, and tell me his impression. 'You know,' he said, 'I have
a prejudice against these sacred subjects for poetry, but then I have
another prejudice _for you_, and one may neutralise the other.' The
next day I had a letter from him with the returned manuscript--a
letter which I was absolutely certain, before I opened it, would
counsel _against_ the publication. On the contrary! His impression is
clearly in favour of the poem, and, while he makes sundry criticisms
on minor points, he considers it very superior as a whole to anything
I ever did before--more sustained, and fuller in power. So my nerves
are braced, and I grow a man again; and the manuscript, as I told you,
is in the press. Moreover, you will be surprised to hear that I think
of bringing out _two volumes of poems_ instead of one, by advice
of Mr. Moxon, the publisher. Also, the Americans have commanded an
American edition, to come out in numbers, either a little before or
simultaneously with the English one, and provided with a separate
preface for themselves.
There now! I have told you all this, knowing your kindness, and that
you will care to hear of it.
It has given me the greatest concern to hear of dear Annie's illness,
and I do hope, both for your sake and for all our sakes, that we may
have better news of her before long.
But I don't mean to fall into another scrape to-day by writing too
much. May God bless you, my very dear friend!
I am ever your affectionate
[Footnote 95: There was, however, a still later last, when it became
the 'Drama of Exile.']
_To H.S. Boyd_
April I, 1844.
My very dear Friend,--Your kind letter I was delighted to receive. You
mistake a good deal the capacities in judgment of 'the man.' The
'man' is highly refined in his tastes, and leaning to the classical
(I was going to say to _your_ classical, only suddenly I thought of
Ossian) a good deal more than I do. He has written satires in the
manner of Pope, which admirers of Pope have praised warmly and
deservedly. If I had hesitated about the conclusiveness of his
judgments, it would have been because of his confessed indisposition
towards subjects religious and ways mystical, and his occasional
insufficient indulgence for rhymes and rhythms which he calls
'_Barrettian_.' But these things render his favourable inclination
towards my 'Drama of Exile' still more encouraging (as you will see)
to my hopes for it.
Still, I do tremble a good deal inwardly when I come to think of
what your own thoughts of my poem, and poems in their two-volume
development, may finally be. I am afraid of you. You will tell me the
truth as it appears to you--upon _that_ I may rely; and I should not
wish you to suppress a single disastrous thought for the sake of the
unpleasantness it may occasion to me. My own faith is that I have made
progress since 'The Seraphim,' only it is too possible (as I confess
to myself and you) that your opinion may be exactly contrary to it.
You are very kind in what you say about wishing to have some
conversation, as the medium of your information upon architecture,
with Octavius--Occy, as we call him. He is very much obliged to you,
and proposes, if it should not be inconvenient to you, to call upon
you on Friday, with Arabel, at about one o'clock. Friday is mentioned
because it is a holiday, no work being done at Mr. Barry's. Otherwise
he is engaged every day (except, indeed, Sunday) from nine in the
morning to five in the afternoon. May God bless you, dearest Mr. Boyd.
I am ever
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
[Footnote 96: John Kenyon: see the last letter.]
_To Mr. Westwood_
April 16, 1844.
... Surely, surely, it was not likely I should lean to utilitarianism
in the notice on Carlyle, as I remember the writer of that
article leans somewhere--_I_, who am reproached with
trans-trans-transcendentalisms, and not without reason, or with
Oh, and I should say also that Mr. Home, in his kindness, has enlarged
considerably in his annotations and reflections on me personally.
My being in correspondence with all the Kings of the East, for
instance, is an exaggeration, although literary work in one way will
bring with it, happily, literary association in others.... Still, I am
not a great letter writer, and I don't write 'elegant Latin verses,'
as all the gods of Rome know, and I have not been shut up in the dark
for seven years by any manner of means. By the way, a barrister said
to my barrister brother the other day, 'I suppose your sister is
dead?' 'Dead?' said he, a little struck; 'dead?' 'Why, yes. After Mr.
Home's account of her being sealed up hermetically in the dark for so
many years, one can only calculate upon her being dead by this time.'
Several of the letters to Mr. Boyd which follow refer to that
celebrated gift of Cyprus wine which led to the composition of one of
Miss Barrett's best known and most quoted poems.
[Footnote 97: In _The New Spirit of the Age_.]
_To H.S. Boyd_
June 18, 1844.
Thank you, my very dear friend! I write to you drunk with Cyprus.
Nothing can be worthier of either gods or demi-gods; and if, as you
say, Achilles did not drink of it, I am sorry for him. I suppose
Jupiter had it instead, just then--Hebe pouring it, and Juno's ox-eyes
bellowing their splendour at it, if you will forgive me that broken
metaphor, for the sake of Aeschylus's genius, and my own particular
Indeed, there _never was_, in modern days, such wine. Flush, to whom
I offered the last drop in my glass, felt it was supernatural, and
ran away. I have an idea that if he had drunk that drop, he would have
talked afterwards--either Greek or English.
Never was such wine! The very taste of ideal nectar, only stiller,
from keeping. If the bubbles of eternity were on it, _we_ should run
away, perhaps, like Flush.
Still, the thought comes to me, ought I to take it from you? Is it
right of me? are you not too kind in sending it? and should you be
allowed to be too kind? In any case, you must, not think of sending me
more than you have already sent. It is more than enough, and I am not
less than very much obliged to you.
I have passed the middle of my second volume, and I only hope that
critics may say of the rest that it smells of Greek wine. Dearest Mr.
_To Mr. Westwood_
June 28, 1844.
My dear Mr. Westwood,--I have certainly and considerably increased
the evidence of my own death by the sepulchral silence of the last few
days. But after all I am not dead, not even _at heart_, so as to be
insensible to your kind anxiety, and I can assure you of this, upon
very fair authority, neither is the book dead yet. It has turned the
corner of the _felo de se_, and if it is to die, it will be by the
critics. The mystery of the long delay, it would not be very easy for
me to explain, notwithstanding I hear Mr. Moxon says: 'I suppose Miss
Barrett is not in a hurry about her publication;' and _I_ say: 'I
suppose Moxon is not in a hurry about the publication.' There may be
a little fault on my side, when I have kept a proof a day beyond the
hour, or when 'copy' has put out new buds in my hands as I passed it
to the printer's. Still, in my opinion, it is a good deal more the
fault of Mr. Moxon's not being in a hurry, than in the excessive
virtue of my patience, or vice of my indolence. Miss Mitford says, as
you do, that she never heard of so slow-footed a book.
_To H.S. Boyd_
50 Wimpole Street:
Wednesday, August I, 1844 [postmark].
My very dear Friend,--Have you expected to hear from me? and are you
vexed with me? I am a little ambitious of the first item--yet hopeful
of an escape from the last. If you did but know how I am pressed for
time, and how I have too much to do every day, you would forgive
me for my negligence; even if you had sent me nectar instead of
mountain, and I had neglected laying my gratitude at your
feet. Last Saturday, upon its being discovered that my first volume
consisted of only 208 pages, and my second of 280 pages, Mr. Moxon
uttered a cry of reprehension, and wished to tear me to pieces by his
printers, as the Bacchantes did Orpheus. Perhaps you might have heard
my head moaning all the way to St. John's Wood! He wanted to tear away
several poems from the end of the second volume, and tie them on to
the end of the first! I could not and would not hear of this, because
I had set my mind on having 'Dead Pan' to conclude with. So there was
nothing for it but to finish a ballad poem called 'Lady Geraldine's
Courtship,' which was lying by me, and I did so by writing, i.e.
composing, _one hundred and forty lines last Saturday!_ I seemed
to be in a dream all day! Long lines too--with fifteen syllables in
each! I see you shake your head all this way off. Moreover it is a
'romance of the age,' treating of railroads, routes, and all manner
of 'temporalities,' and in so radical a temper that I expect to be
reproved for it by the Conservative reviews round. By the way, did I
tell you of the good news I had from America the third of this month?
The 'Drama of Exile' is in the hands of a New York publisher; and
having been submitted to various chief critics of the country on its
way, was praised loudly and extravagantly. This was, however, by a
_private reading_ only. A bookseller at Philadelphia had announced it
for publication--he intended to take it up when the English edition
reached America; but upon its being represented to him that the New
York publisher had proof sheets direct from the author and would give
copy money, he abandoned his intention to the other. I confess I feel
very much pleased at the kind spirit--the spirit of eager kindness
indeed--with which the Americans receive my poetry. It is not wrong
to be pleased, I hope. In this country there may be mortifications
waiting for me; quite enough to keep my modesty in a state of
cultivation. I do not know. I hope the work will be out this week, and
_then_! Did I explain to you that what 'Lady Geraldine's Courtship'
was wanted for was to increase the size of the first volume, so as to
restore the equilibrium of volumes, without dislocating 'Pan'? Oh, how
anxious I shall be to hear your opinion! If you tell me that I have
lost my intellects, what in the world shall I do _then_--what _shall_
I do? My Americans--that is, my Americans who were in at the private
reading, and perhaps I myself--are of opinion that I have made
great progress since 'The Seraphim.' It seems to me that I have more
_reach_, whether in thought or language. But then, to _you_ it may
appear quite otherwise, and I shall be very melancholy if it does.
Only you must tell me the _precise truth_; and I trust to you that you
will let me have it in its integrity.
All the life and strength which are in me, seem to have passed into my
poetry. It is my _pou sto_--not to move the world; but to live on in.
I must not forget to tell you that there is a poem towards the end of
the second volume, called 'Cyprus Wine,' which I have done myself the
honor and pleasure of associating with your name. I thought that you
would not be displeased by it, as a proof of grateful regard from me.
Talking of wines, the Mountain has its attraction, but certainly is
not to be compared to the Cyprus. You will see how I have praised the
latter. Well, now I must say 'good-bye,' which you will praise _me_
Dearest Mr. Boyd's affectionate
P.S.--_Nota bene_--I wish to forewarn you that I have cut away in the
text none of my vowels by apostrophes. When I say 'To efface,'
wanting two-syllable measure, I do not write 'T' efface' as in the old
fashion, but 'To efface' full length. This is the style of the day.
Also you will find me a little lax perhaps in metre--a freedom which
is the result not of carelessness, but of _conviction_, and indeed of
much patient study of the great Fathers of English poetry--not meaning
Mr. Pope. Be as patient with me as you can. You shall have the volumes
as soon as they are ready.
[Footnote 98: Evidently a reference to the name of some wine (perhaps
Montepulciano) sent her by Mr. Boyd. See the end of the letter.]
[Footnote 99: It will be observed that this is not quite the same as
the current legend, which asserts that the whole poem (of 412 lines)
was composed in twelve hours.]
_To H.S. Boyd_
August 6, 1844.
My very dear Friend,--I cannot be certain, from my recollections,
whether I did or did not write to you before, as you suggest; but
as you never received the letter and I was in a continual press of
different thoughts, the probability is that I did not write. The
Cyprus wine in the second vial I certainly _did_ receive; and was
grateful to you with the whole force of the aroma of it. And now I
will tell you an anecdote.
In the excess of my filial tenderness, I poured out a glass for papa,
and offered it to him with my right hand.
'_What is this_?' said he.
'_Taste it_,' said I as laconically, but with more emphasis.
He raised it to his lips; and, after a moment, recoiled, with such
a face as sinned against Adam's image, and with a shudder of deep
'Why,' he said, 'what most beastly and nauseous thing is this? Oh,' he
said, 'what detestable drug is this? Oh, oh,' he said, 'I shall never,
never, get this horrible taste out of my mouth.'
I explained with the proper degree of dignity that 'it was Greek wine,
Cyprus wine, and of very great value.'
He retorted with acrimony, that 'it might be Greek, twice over; but
that it was exceedingly beastly.'
I resumed, with persuasive argument, that 'it could scarcely be
beastly, inasmuch as the taste reminded one of oranges and orange
flower together, to say nothing of the honey of Mount Hymettus.'
He took me up with stringent logic, 'that any wine must positively be
beastly, which, pretending to be wine, tasted sweet as honey, and
that it was beastly on my own showing!' I send you this report as an
evidence of a curious opinion. But drinkers of port wine cannot be
expected to judge of nectar--and I hold your 'Cyprus' to be pure
I shall have pleasure in doing what you ask me to do--that is,
I _will_--if you promise never to call me Miss Barrett again.
You have often quite vexed me by it. There is
Ba--Elizabeth--Elzbeth--Ellie--any modification of my name you may
call me by--but I won't be called Miss Barrett by _you_. Do you
understand? Arabel means to carry your copy of my book to you. And I
beg you not to fancy that I shall be impatient for you to read the
two volumes through. If you _ever_ read them through, it will be
a sufficient compliment, and indeed I do not expect that you _ever
May God bless you, dearest Mr. Boyd.
Your affectionate and grateful
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
The date of this last letter marks, as nearly as need be, the date of
publication of Miss Barrett's volumes. The letters which follow deal
mainly with their reception, first at the hand of friends, and then by
the regular critics. The general verdict of the latter was extremely
complimentary. Mr. Chorley, in the 'Athenaeum,' described the
volumes as 'extraordinary,' adding that 'between her [Miss Barrett's]
poems and the slighter lyrics of most of the sisterhood, there is all
the difference which exists between the putting-on of "singing robes"
for altar service, and the taking up lute or harp to enchant an
indulgent circle of friends and kindred.' In the 'Examiner,' John
Forster declared that 'Miss Barrett is an undoubted poetess of a high
and fine order as regards the first requisites of her art--imagination
and expression.... She is a most remarkable writer, and her volumes
contain not a little which the lovers of poetry will never willingly
let die,' a phrase then not quite so hackneyed as it has since become.
The 'Atlas' asserted that 'the present volumes show extraordinary
powers, and, abating the failings of which all the followers of
Tennyson are guilty, extraordinary genius.' More influential even than
these, 'Blackwood' paid her the compliment of a whole article,
criticising her faults frankly, but declaring that 'her poetical
merits infinitively outweigh her defects. Her genius is profound,
unsullied, and without a flaw.' All agreed in assigning her a high,
or the highest, place among the poetesses of England; but, as
Miss Barrett herself pointed out, this, in itself, was no great
[Footnote 100: August 24, 1844.]
[Footnote 101: October 5, 1844.]
[Footnote 102: September 31, 1844.]
[Footnote 103: November 1844.]
[Footnote 104: See letter of January 3, 1845.]
With regard to individual poems, the critics did not take kindly to
the 'Drama of Exile,' and 'Blackwood' in particular criticised it at
considerable length, calling it 'the least successful of her works.'
The subject, while half challenging comparison with Milton, lends
itself only too readily to fancifulness and unreality, which were
among the most besetting sins of Miss Barrett's genius. The minor
poems were incomparably more popular, and the favourite of all was
that masterpiece of rhetorical sentimentality, 'Lady Geraldine's
Courtship.' It must have been a little mortifying to the authoress to
find this piece, a large part of which had been dashed off at a single
heat in order to supply the printers' needs, preferred to others on
which she had employed all the labour of her deliberate art; but with
the general tone of all the critics she had every reason to be as
content as her letters show her to have been. Only two criticisms
rankled: the one that she was a follower of Tennyson, the other that
her rhymes were slovenly and careless. And these appeared, in varying
shapes, in nearly all the reviews.
The former of these allegations is of little weight. Whatever
qualities Miss Barrett may have shared with Tennyson, her substantial
independence is unquestionable. It is a case rather of coincidence
than imitation; or if imitation, it is of a slight and unconscious
kind. The second criticism deserves fuller notice, because it is
constantly repeated to this day. The following letters show how
strongly Miss Barrett protested against it. As she told Horne,
with reference to this very subject: 'If I fail ultimately before the
public--that is, before the people--for an ephemeral popularity does
not appear to me to be worth trying for--it will not be because I have
shrunk from the amount of labour, where labour could do anything. I
have _worked_ at poetry; it has not been with me reverie, but art.'
That her rhymes were inexact, especially in such poems as 'The Dead
Pan,' she did not deny; but her defence was that the inexactness was
due to a deliberate attempt to widen the artistic capabilities of the
English language. Partly, perhaps, as a result of her acquaintance
with Italian literature, she had a marked fondness for disyllabic
rhymes; and since pure rhymes of this kind are not plentiful in
English, she tried the experiment of using assonances instead. Hence
such rhymes as _silence_ and _islands_, _vision_ and _procession_,
_panther_ and _saunter_, examples which could be indefinitely
multiplied if need were. Now it may be that a writer with a very
sensitive ear would not have attempted such an experiment, and it is a
fact that public taste has not approved it; but the experiment itself
is as legitimate as, say, the metrical experiments in hexameters and
hendecasyllabics of Longfellow or Tennyson, and whether approved
or not it should be criticised as an experiment, not as mere
carelessness. That Mrs. Browning's ear was quite-capable of discerning
true rhymes is shown by the fact that she tacitly abandoned her
experiment in assonances. Not only in the pure and high art of the
'Sonnets from the Portuguese,' but even in 'Casa Guidi Windows,' the
rhetorical and sometimes colloquial tone of which might have been
thought to lend itself to such devices, imperfect rhymes occur but
rarely not exceeding the limits allowed to himself by every poet who
has rhymed _given_ and _heaven_; and the roll of those who have _not_
done so must be small indeed.
[Footnote 105: _Letters to R.H. Horne_, ii. 119.]
The point has seemed worth dwelling on, because it touches a
commonplace of criticism as regards Mrs. Browning; but we may now make
way for her own comments on her critics and friends.
_To H.S. Boyd_
Tuesday, August 13, 1844 [postmark].
My very dear Friend,--I must thank you for the great kindness with
which you have responded to a natural expression of feeling on
my part, and for all the pleasure of finding you pleased with the
inscription of 'Cyprus Wine.' Your note has given me much true
pleasure. Yes; if my verses survive me, I should wish them to relate
the fact of my being your debtor for many happy hours.
And now I must explain to you that most of the 'incorrectnesses' you
speak of may be 'incorrectnesses,' but are not _negligences_. I have
a theory about double rhymes for which--I shall be attacked by the
critics, but which I could justify perhaps on high authority, or at
least analogy. In fact, these volumes of mine have more double rhymes
than any two books of English poems that ever to my knowledge were
printed; I mean of English poems _not comic_. Now, of double rhymes
in use, which are perfect rhymes, you are aware how few there are, and
yet you are also aware of what an admirable effect in making a rhythm
various and vigorous, double rhyming is in English poetry. Therefore
I have used a certain licence; and after much thoughtful study of the
Elizabethan writers, have ventured it with the public. And do _you_
tell me, _you_ who object to the use of a different _vowel_ in a
double rhyme, _why_ you rhyme (as everybody does, without blame from
anybody) 'given' to 'heaven,' when you object to my rhyming 'remember'
and 'chamber'? The analogy surely is all on my side, and I _believe_
that the spirit of the English language is also.
I write all this because you will find many other sins of the sort,
besides those in the 'Cyprus Wine;' and because I wish you to consider
the subject as _a point for consideration_ seriously, and not to blame
me as a writer of careless verses. If I deal too much in licences, it
is not because I am idle, but because I am speculative for freedom's
sake. It is possible, you know, to be wrong conscientiously; and I
stand up for my conscience only.
I thank you earnestly for your candour hitherto, and I beseech you to
be candid to the end.
It is tawny as Rhea's lion.
I know (although you don't say so) you object to that line. Yet
consider its structure. Does not the final 'y' of 'tawny' suppose an
apostrophe and apocope? Do you not run 'tawny as' into two syllables
naturally? I want you to see my principle.
With regard to blank verse, the great Fletcher admits sometimes
seventeen syllables into his lines.
I hope Miss Heard received her copy, and that you will not think me
arrogant in writing freely to you.
Believe me, I write only freely and not arrogantly; and I am impressed
with the conviction that my work abounds with far more faults than you
in your kindness will discover, notwithstanding your acumen.
Always your affectionate and grateful
_To H.S. Boyd_
Wednesday, August 14, 1844 [postmark].
My dearest Mr. Boyd,--I must thank you for the great great pleasure
with which I have this moment read your note, the more welcome,
as (without hypocrisy) I had worked myself up into a nervous
apprehension, from your former one, that I should seem so 'rudis atque
incomposita' to you, in consequence of certain licences, as to end by
being intolerable. I know what an ear you have, and how you can hear
the dust on the wheel as it goes on. Well, I wrote to you yesterday,
to beg you to be patient and considerate.
But you are always given to surprise me with abundant kindness--with
supererogatory kindness. I believe in _that_, certainly.
I am very very glad that you think me stronger and more perspicuous.
For the perspicuity, I have struggled hard....
Your affectionate and grateful
_To Mr. Westwood_
50 Wimpole Street: August 22, 1844.
... Thank you for your welcome letter, so kind in its candour, _I_
angry that you should prefer 'The Seraphim'! Angry? No _indeed,
indeed_, I am grateful for 'The Seraphim,' and not exacting for the
'Drama,' and all the more because of a secret obstinate persuasion
that the 'Drama' will have a majority of friends in the end, and
perhaps deserve to have them. Nay, why should I throw perhapses over
my own impressions, and be insincere to you who have honoured me by
being sincere? Why should I dissemble my own belief that the 'Drama'
is worth two or three 'Seraphims'--_my own_ belief, you know, which is
worth nothing, writers knowing themselves so superficially, and having
such a natural leaning to their last work. Still, I may say honestly
to you, that I have a far more modest value for 'The Seraphim' than
your kindness suggests, and that I have seemed to myself to have a
clear insight into the fact that that poem was only borne up by the
minor poems published with it, from immediate destruction. There is a
want of unity in it which vexes me to think of, and the other faults
magnify themselves day by day, more and more, in my eyes. Therefore
it is not that I care _more_ for the 'Drama,' but I care less for 'The
Seraphim.' Both poems fall short of my aspiration and desire, but the
'Drama' seems to me fuller, freer and stronger, and worth the other
three times over. If it has anything new, I think it must be something
new into which I have lived, for certainly I wrote it sincerely and
from an inner impulse. In fact, I never wrote any poem with so much
sense of pleasure in the composition, and so rapidly, with continuous
flow--from fifty to a hundred lines a day, and quite in a glow of
pleasure and impulse all through. Still, you have not been used to see
me in blank verse, and there may be something in that. That the poem
is full of faults and imperfections I do not in the least doubt. I
have vibrated between exultations and despondencies in the correcting
and printing of it, though the composition went smoothly to an end,
and I am prepared to receive the bastinado to the critical degree, I
do assure you. The few opinions I have yet had are all to the effect
that my advance on the former publication is very great and obvious,
but then I am aware that people who thought exactly the contrary would
be naturally backward in giving me their opinion.... Indeed, I thank
you most earnestly. Truth and kindness, how rarely do they come
together! I am very grateful to you. It is curious that 'Duchess May'
is not a favorite of mine, and that I have sighed one or two secret
wishes towards its extirpation, but other writers besides yourself
have singled it out for praise in private letters to me. There has
been no printed review yet, I believe; and when I think of them, I
try to think of something else, for with no private friends among
the critical body (not that I should desire to owe security in such a
matter to private friendship) it is awful enough, this looking forward
to be reviewed. Never mind, the ultimate prosperity of the book lies
far above the critics, and can neither be mended nor made nor unmade
_To John Kenyan_
Wednesday morning [August 1844].
I return Mr. Chorley's note, my dear cousin, with thankful
thoughts of him--as of you. I wish I could persuade you of the
rightness of my view about 'Essays on Mind' and such things, and how
the difference between them and my present poems is not merely the
difference between two schools, as you seemed to intimate yesterday,
nor even the difference between immaturity and maturity; but that it
is the difference between the dead and the living, between a copy and
an individuality, between what is myself and what is not myself. To
you who have a personal interest and--may I say? affection for me,
the girl's exercise assumes a factitious value, but to the public
the matter is otherwise and ought to be otherwise. And for the
'psychological' side of the question, _do_ observe that I have not
reputation enough to suggest a curiosity about _my legends_. Instead
of your 'legendary lore,' it would be just a legendary bore. Now you
understand what I mean. I do not underrate Pope nor his school, but I
_do_ disesteem everything which, bearing the shape of a book, is not
the true expression of a mind, and I know and feel (and so do _you_)
that a girl's exercise written when all the experience lay in books,
and the mind was suited rather for intelligence than production,
lying like an infant's face with an undeveloped expression, must
be valueless in itself, and if offered to the public directly or
indirectly as a work of mine, highly injurious to me. Why, of the
'Prometheus' volume, even, you know what I think and desire. 'The
Seraphim,' with all its feebleness and shortcomings and obscurities,
yet is the first utterance of my own individuality, and therefore the
only volume except the last which is not a disadvantage to me to have
thought of, and happily for me, the early books, never having been
advertised, nor reviewed, except by accident, once or twice, are as
safe from the public as manuscript.
Oh, I shudder to think of the lines which might have been 'nicked in,'
and all through Mr. Chorley's good nature. As if I had not sins enough
to ruin me in the new poems, without reviving juvenile ones, sinned
when I knew no better. Perhaps you would like to have the series of
epic poems which I wrote from nine years old to eleven. They might
illustrate some doctrine of innate ideas, and enrich (to that end) the
myths of metaphysicians.
And also agree with me in reverencing that wonderful genius _Keats_,
who, rising as a grand exception from among the vulgar herd of
juvenile versifiers, was an individual _man_ from the beginning, and
spoke with his own voice, though surrounded by the yet unfamiliar
murmur of antique echoes. Leigh Hunt calls him 'the young poet'
very rightly. Most affectionately and gratefully yours,
Do thank Mr. Chorley for me, will you?
[Footnote 106: Henry Fothergill Chorley (1808-1872) was one of the
principal members of the staff of the _Athenaeum_, especially in
literary and musical matters. Dr. Garnett (in the _Dictionary of
National Biography_) says of him, shortly after his first joining the
staff in 1833, that 'his articles largely contributed to maintain the
reputation the _Athenaeum_ had already acquired for impartiality at a
time when puffery was more rampant than ever before or since, and
when the only other London literary journal of any pretension was
notoriously venal.' He also wrote several novels and dramas, which met
with but little popular success.]
[Footnote 107: Compare Aurora Leigh's asseveration:
'By Keats' soul, the man who never stepped
In gradual progress like another man,
But, turning grandly on his central self,
Ensphered himself in twenty perfect years
And died, _not_ young.'
('Aurora Leigh,' book i.; _Poetical Works_, vi. 38.)]
_To Mrs. Martin_
Thursday, August 1844.
Thank you, my dearest Mrs. Martin, for your most kind letter, a reply
to which should certainly, as you desired, have met you at Colwall;
only, right or wrong, I have been flurried, agitated, put out of the
way altogether, by Stormie's and Henry's plan of going to Egypt. Ah,
now you are surprised. Now you think me excusable for being silent
two days beyond my time--yes, and _they have gone_, it is no vague
speculation. You know, or perhaps you don't know, that, a little time
back, papa bought a ship, put a captain and crew of his own in it, and
began to employ it in his favourite 'Via Lactea' of speculations. It
has been once to Odessa with wool, I think; and now it has gone to
Alexandria with coals. Stormie was wild to go to both places; and with
regard to the last, papa has yielded. And Henry goes too. This was all
arranged weeks ago, but nothing was said of it until last Monday
to me; and when I heard it, I was a good deal moved of course, and
although resigned now to their having their way in it, and their
_pleasure_, which is better than their way, still I feel I have
entered a new anxiety, and shall not be quite at ease again till they
And now to thank you, my ever-dearest Mrs. Martin, for your kind and
welcome letter from the Lakes. I knew quite at the first page, and
long before you said a word specifically, that dear Mr. Martin was
better, and think that such a scene, even from under an umbrella, must
have done good to the soul and body of both of you. I wish I could
have looked through your eyes for once. But I suppose that neither
through yours, nor through my own, am I ever likely to behold that
sight. In the meantime it is with considerable satisfaction that I
hear of your _failure of Wordsworth_, which was my salvation in a very
awful sense. Why, if you had done such a thing, you would have put me
to the shame of too much honor. The speculation consoles me entirely
for your loss in respect to Rydal Hall and its poet. By the way, I
heard the other day that Rogers, who was intending to visit him, said,
'It is a bad time of year for it. The god is on his pedestal; and
can only give gestures to his worshippers, and no conversation to his
Although you did not find a letter from me on your return to Colwall,
I do hope that you found _me_--viz. my book, which Mr. Burden took
charge of, and promised to deliver or see delivered. When you have
read it, _do_ let me hear your own and Mr. Martin's true impression;
and whether you think it worse or better than 'The Seraphim.' The only
review which has yet appeared or had time to appear has been a very
kind and cordial one in the 'Athenaeum.' ...
Your ever affectionate
_To Mr. Westwood_
August 31, 1844.
My dear Mr. Westwood,--I send you the manuscript you ask for, and also
my certificate that, although I certainly was once a little girl,
yet I never in my life had fair hair, or received lessons when you
mention. I think a cousin of mine, now dead, may have done it. The
'Barrett Barrett' seems to specify my family. I have a little cousin
with bright fair hair at this moment who is an Elizabeth Barrett (the
subject of my 'Portrait'), but then she is a 'Georgiana' besides,
and your friend must refer to times past. My hair is very dark indeed,
and always was, as long as I remember, and also I have a friend who
makes serious affidavit that I have never changed (except by being
rather taller) since I was a year old. Altogether, you cannot make a
case of identity out, and I am forced to give up the glory of being so
long remembered for my cleverness.
You do wrong in supposing me inclined to underrate Mr. Melville's
power. He is inclined to High-Churchism, and to such doctrines as
apostolical succession, and I, who, am a Dissenter, and a believer in
a universal Christianity, recoil from the exclusive doctrine.
But then, that is not depreciatory of his power and eloquence--surely
[Footnote 108: _Poetical Works_, iii. 172.]
_To Mr. Chorley_
50 Wimpole Street: Monday.
[About the end of August 1844.]
Dear Mr. Chorley,--Kindnesses are more frequent things with me than
gladnesses, but I thank you earnestly for both in the letter I have
this moment received. You have given me a quick sudden pleasure
which goes deeper (I am very sure) than self-love, for it must be
something better than vanity that brings the tears so near the eyes. I
thank you, dear Mr. Chorley.
After all, we are not quite strangers. I have had some early
encouragement and direction from you, and much earlier (and later)
literary pleasures from such of your writings as did not refer to me.
I have studied 'Music and Manners' under you, and found an excuse
for my love of romance-reading from your grateful fancy. Then, as dear
Miss Mitford's friend, you could not help being (however against your
will!) a little my acquaintance; and this she daringly promised to
make you in reality some day, till I took the fervour for prophecy.
Altogether I am justified, while I thank you as a stranger, to say one
more word as a friend, and _that_ shall be the best word--'_May God
bless you_!' The trials with which He tries us all are different, but
our faces may be turned towards the end in cheerfulness, for '_to_ the
end He has loved us.' I remain,
Very faithfully, your obliged
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
You may trust me with the secret of your kindness to me. It shall not
[Footnote 109: A summary of its contents is given in the next letter
[Footnote 110: _Music and Manners in France and Germany: a Series of
Travelling Sketches of Art and Society_, published by Mr. Chorley in
_To H.S. Boyd_
Monday, September 1, 1844.
My dearest Mr. Boyd,--I thank you for the Cyprus, and also for a still
sweeter amreeta--your praise. Certainly to be praised as you praise
me might well be supposed likely to turn a sager head than mine, but
I feel that (with all my sensitive and grateful appreciation of such
words) I am removed rather below than above the ordinary temptations
of vanity. Poetry is to me rather a passion than an ambition, and
the gadfly which drives me along that road pricks deeper than an
expectation of fame could do.
Moreover, there will be plenty of counter-irritation to prevent me
from growing feverish under your praises. And as a beginning, I hear
that the 'John Bull' newspaper has cut me up with sanguinary gashes,
for the edification of its Sabbath readers. I have not seen it yet,
but I hear so. The 'Drama' is the particular victim. Do not send for
the paper. I will let you have it, if you should wish for it.
One thing is left to me to say. Arabel told you of a letter I had
received from a professional critic, and I am sorry that she should
have told you so without binding you to secrecy on the point at the
same time. In fact, the writer of the letter begged me _not_ to speak
of it, and I took an engagement to him _not_ to speak of it. Now it
would be very unpleasant to me, and dishonorable to me, if, after
entering into this engagement, the circumstance of the letter should
come to be talked about. Of course you will understand that I do not
object to your having been informed of the thing, only Arabel should
have remembered to ask you not to mention again the name of the critic
who wrote to me.
May God bless you, my very dear friend. I drink thoughts of you in
Cyprus every day.
Your ever affectionate
There is no review in the 'Examiner' yet, nor any continuation in the
[Footnote 111: The _Athenaeum_ had reserved the two longer poems, the
'Drama of Exile' and the 'Vision of Poets,' for possible notice in a
second article, which, however, never appeared.]
_To Mrs. Martin_
September 10, 1844.
My dearest Mrs. Martin,--I will not lose a post in assuring you that
I was not silent because of any disappointment from your previous
letter. I could only feel the _kindness_ of that letter, and this was
certainly the chief and uppermost feeling at the time of reading it,
and since. Your preference of 'The Seraphim' one other person besides
yourself has acknowledged to me in the same manner, and although I
myself--perhaps from the natural leaning to last works, and perhaps
from a wise recognition of the complete failure of the poem called
'The Seraphim '--do disagree with you, yet I can easily forgive you
for such a thought, and believe that you see sufficient grounds for
entertaining it. More and more I congratulate myself (at any rate)
for the decision I came to at the last moment, and in the face of
some persuasions, to call the book 'Poems,' instead of trusting its
responsibility to the 'Drama,' by such a title as 'A Drama of Exile,
and Poems.' It is plain, as I anticipated, that for one person who is
ever so little pleased with the 'Drama,' fifty at least will like the
smaller poems. And perhaps they are right. The longer sustaining of a
subject requires, of course, more power, and I may have failed in it
Yes, I think I may say that I am satisfied so far with the aspect of
things in relation to the book. You see there has scarcely been time
yet to give any except a sanguine or despondent judgment--I mean,
there is scarcely room yet for forming a very rational inference of
what will ultimately be, without the presentiments of hope or fear.
The book came out too late in August for any chance of a mention in
the September magazines, and at the dead time of year, when the
very critics were thinking more of holiday innocence than of their
carnivorous instincts. This will not hurt it ultimately, although it
might have hurt a _novel_. The regular critics will come back to it;
and in the meantime the newspaper critics are noticing it all round,
with more or less admissions to its advantage. The 'Atlas' is the best
of the newspapers for literary notices; and it spoke graciously on
the whole; though I do protest against being violently attached to
a 'school.' I have faults enough, I know; but it is just to say that
they are at least my own. Well, then! It is true that the 'Westminster
Review' says briefly what is great praise, and promises to take the
earliest opportunity of reviewing me 'at large.' So that with regard
to the critics, there seems to be a good prospect. Then I have had
some very pleasant private letters--one from Carlyle; an oath from
Miss Martineau to give her whole mind to the work and tell me her free
and full opinion, which I have not received yet; an assurance from an
acquaintance of Mrs. Jameson that she was much pleased. But the letter
which pleased me most was addressed to me by a professional critic,
personally unknown to me, who wrote to say that he had traced me up,
step by step, ever since I began to print, and that my last volumes
were so much better than any preceding them, and were such _living
books_, that they restored to him the impulses of his youth and
constrained him to thank me for the pleasant emotions they had
excited. I cannot say the name of the writer of this letter, because
he asked me not to do so, but of course it was very pleasant to read.
Now you will not call me vain for speaking of this. I would not
speak of it; only I want (you see) to prove to you how faithfully
and gratefully I have a trust in your kindness and sympathy. It is
certainly the best kindness to speak the truth to me. I have written
those poems as well as I could, and I hope to write others better. I
have not reached my own ideal; and I cannot expect to have satisfied
other people's expectation. But it is (as I sometimes say) the least
ignoble part of me, that I love poetry better than I love my own
successes in it.
I am glad that you like 'The Lost Bower.' The scene of that poem is
the wood above the garden at Hope End.
It is very true, my dearest Mrs. Martin, all that you say about the
voyage to Alexandria. And I do not feel the anxiety I _thought I
should_. In fact, _I am surprised to feel so little anxiety_. Still,
when they are at home again, I shall be happier than I am now, _that_
I feel strongly besides.
What I missed most in your first letter was what I do not miss in the
second, the good news of dear Mr. Martin. Both he and you are very
vainglorious, I suppose, about O'Connell; but although I was delighted
on every account at his late victory, or rather at the late
victory of justice and constitutional law, he never was a hero of mine
and is not likely to become one. If he had been (by the way) a hero of
mine, I should have been quite ashamed of him for being so unequal to
his grand position as was demonstrated by the speech from the balcony.
Such poetry in the position, and such prose in the speech! He has not
the stuff in him of which heroes are made. There is a thread of cotton
everywhere crossing the silk....
With our united love to both of you,
Ever, dearest Mrs. Martin, most affectionately yours,
[Footnote 112: The reversal by the House of Lords of his conviction in
Ireland for conspiracy, which the English Court of Queen's Bench had
_To Mrs. Martin_
Wednesday [about September 1844].
My dearest Mrs. Martin, ... Did I tell you that Miss Martineau had
promised and vowed to me to tell me the whole truth with respect to
the poems? Her letter did not come until a few days ago, and for a
full month after the publication; and I was so fearful of the probable
sentence that my hands shook as they broke the seal. But such a
pleasant letter! I have been overjoyed with it. She says that her
'predominant impression is of the _originality_'--very pleasant to
hear. I must not forget, however, to say that she complains of 'want
of variety' in the general effect of the drama, and that she 'likes
Lucifer less than anything in the two volumes.' You see how you have
high backers. Still she talks of 'immense advances,' which consoles me
again. In fact, there is scarcely a word to _require_ consolation
in her letter, and what did not please me least--nay, to do myself
justice, what put all the rest out of my head for some minutes with
joy--is the account she gives of herself. For she is better and likely
still to be better; she has recovered appetite and sleep, and lost the
most threatening symptoms of disease; she has been out for the first
time for four years and a half, lying on the grass flat, she says,
with my books open beside her day after day. (That _does_ sound vain
of me, but I cannot resist the temptation of writing it!) And
the means--the means! Such means you would never divine! It is
_mesmerism_. She is thrown into the magnetic trance twice a day; and
the progress is manifest; and the hope for the future clear. Now,
what do you both think? Consider what a case it is! No case of a
weak-minded woman and a nervous affection; but of the most manlike
woman in the three kingdoms--in the best sense of man--a woman gifted
with admirable fortitude, as well as exercised in high logic, a woman
of sensibility and of imagination certainly, but apt to carry her
reason unbent wherever she sets her foot; given to utilitarian
philosophy and the habit of logical analysis; and suffering under a
disease which has induced change of structure and yielded to no tried
remedy! Is it not wonderful, and past expectation? She suggests that
I should try the means--but I understand that in cases like mine the
remedy has done harm instead of good, by over-exciting the system. But
her experience will settle the question of the reality of magnetism
with a whole generation of infidels. For my own part, I have long been
a believer, _in spite of papa_. Then I have had very kind letters from
Mrs. Jameson, the 'Ennuyee' and from Mr. Serjeant Talfourd and
some less famous persons. And a poet with a Welsh name wrote to me
yesterday to say that he was writing a poem 'similar to my "Drama of
Exile,"' and begged me to subscribe to it. Now I tell you all this to
make you smile, and because some of it will interest you more gravely.
It will prove to dear unjust Mr. Martin that I do not distrust your
sympathy. How could he think so of me? I am half vexed that he should
think so. Indeed--indeed I am not so morbidly vain. Why, if you had
told me that the books were without any sort of value in your eyes,
do you imagine that I should not have valued you, reverenced you
ever after for your truth, so sacred a thing in friendship? I really
believe it would have been my predominant feeling. But you proved your
truth without trying me so hardly; I had _both_ truth and praise from
you, and surely quite enough, and _more_ than enough, as many would
think, of the latter.
My dearest papa left us this morning to go for a few days into
Cornwall for the purpose of examining a quarry in which he has bought
or is about to buy shares, and he means to strike on for the Land's
End and to see Falmouth before he returns. It depresses me to think
of his being away; his presence or the sense of his nearness having
so much cheering and soothing influence with me; but it will be an
excellent change for him, even if he does not, as he expects, dig an
immense fortune out of the quarries....
Your affectionate and ever obliged
[Footnote 113: Mrs. Jameson's earliest book, and one which achieved
considerable popularity, was her _Diary of an Ennuyee_.]
_To Cornelius Mathews_
London, 50 Wimpole Street: October 1, 1844.
My dear Mr. Mathews,--I have just received your note, which, on the
principle of single sighs or breaths being wafted from Indies to the
poles, arrived quite safely, and I was very glad to have it. I shall
fall into monotony if I go on to talk of my continued warm sense of
your wonderful kindness to me, a stranger according to the manner of
men; and, indeed, I have just this moment been writing a note to
a friend two streets away, and calling it 'wonderful kindness.'
I cannot, however, of course, allow you to run the tether of your
impulse and furnish me with the reviews of my books and other things
you speak of at your own expense, and I should prefer, if you would
have the goodness to give the necessary direction to Messrs. Putnam
& Co., that they should send what would interest me to see, together
with a note of the pecuniary debt to themselves. I shall like to see
the reviews, of course; and that you should have taken the first word
of American judgment into your own mouth is a pleasant thought to
me, and leaves me grateful. In England I have no reason so far to
be otherwise than well pleased. There has not, indeed, been much yet
besides newspaper criticisms--except 'Ainsworth's Magazine,' which
is benignant!--there has not been time. The monthly reviews give
themselves 'pause' in such matters to set the plumes of their dignity,
and I am rather glad than otherwise not to have the first fruits of
their haste. The 'Atlas,' the best newspaper for literary reviews,
excepting always the 'Examiner,' who does not speak yet, is generous
to me, and I have reason to be satisfied with others. And our most
influential quarterly (after the 'Edinburgh' and right 'Quarterly'),
the 'Westminster Review,' promises an early paper with passing words
of high praise. What vexed me a little in one or two of the journals
was an attempt made to fix me in a school, and the calling me
a follower of Tennyson for my habit of using compound words,
noun-substantives, which I used to do before I knew a page of
Tennyson, and adopted from a study of our old English writers, and
Greeks and even Germans. The custom is so far from being peculiar to
Tennyson, that Shelley and Keats and Leigh Hunt are all redolent of
it, and no one can read our old poets without perceiving the leaning
of our Saxon to that species of coalition. Then I have had letters of
great kindness from 'Spirits of the Age,' whose praises are so many
crowns, and altogether am far from being out of spirits about the
prospect of my work. I am glad, however, that I gave the name of
'Poems' to the work instead of admitting the 'Drama of Exile' into the
title-page and increasing its responsibility; for one person who likes
the 'Drama,' ten like the other poems. Both Carlyle and Miss Martineau
select as favorite 'Lady Geraldine's Courtship,' which amuses and
surprises me somewhat. In that poem I had endeavoured to throw
conventionalities (turned asbestos for the nonce) into the fire of
poetry, to make them glow and glitter as if they were not dull things.
Well, I shall soon hear what _you_ like best--and worst. I wonder if
you have been very carnivorous with me! I tremble a little to think of
your hereditary claim to an instrument called the tomahawk. Still, I
am sure I shall have to think _most_, ever as now, of your kindness;
and _truth_ must be sacred to all of us, whether we have to suffer
or be glad by it. As for Mr. Horne, I cannot answer for what he has
received or not received. I had one note from him on silver paper
(fear of postage having reduced him to a transparency) from Germany,
and that is all, and I did not think him in good spirits in what he
said of himself. I will tell him what you have the goodness to say,
and something, too, on my own part. He has had a hard time of it with
his 'Spirit of the Age;' the attacks on the book here being bitter in
the extreme. Your 'Democratic' does not comfort him for the rest, by
the way, and, indeed, he is almost past comfort on the subject. I had
a letter the other day from Dr. Shelton Mackenzie, whom I do not know
personally, but who is about to publish a 'Living Author Dictionary,'
and who, by some association, talked of the effeminacy of 'the
American poets,' so I begged him to read your poems on 'Man' and
prepare an exception to his position. I wish to write more and must
Most faithfully yours,
Am I the first with the great and good news for America and England
that Harriet Martineau is better and likely to be better? She told me
so herself, and attributes the change to the agency of _mesmerism_.
_To H.S. Boyd_
October 4, 1844.
My dearest Mr. Boyd,--... As to 'The Lost Bower,' I am penitent about
having caused you so much disturbance. I sometimes fancy that a little
varying of the accents, though at the obvious expense of injuring
the smoothness of every line considered separately, gives variety
of cadence and fuller harmony to the general effect. But I do not
question that I deserve a great deal of blame on this point as on
others. Many lines in 'Isobel's Child' are very slovenly and weak from
a multitude of causes. I hope you will like 'The Lost Bower' better
when you try it again than you did at first, though I do not, of
course, expect that you will not see much to cry out against. The
subject of the poem was an actual fact of my childhood.
Oh, and I think I told you, when giving you the history of 'Lady
Geraldine's Courtship,' that I wrote the _thirteen_ last pages of it
in one day. I ought to have said _nineteen_ pages instead. But don't
tell anybody; only keep the circumstance in your mind when you need it
and see the faults. Nobody knows of it except you and Mr. Kenyon and
my own family for the reason I told you. I sent off that poem to the
press piece-meal, as I never in my life did before with any poem.
And since I wrote to you I have heard of Mr. Eagles, one of the first
writers in 'Blackwood' and a man of very refined taste, adding another
name to the many of those who have preferred it to anything in the
two volumes. He says that he has read it at least six times aloud to
various persons, and calls it a 'beautiful _sui generis_ drama.' On
which Mr. Kenyon observes that I am 'ruined for life, and shall be
sure never to take pains with any poem again.'
The American edition (did Arabel tell you?) was to be out in New
York a week ago, and was to consist of fifteen hundred copies in two
volumes, as in England.
She sends you the verses and asks you to make allowances for the delay
in doing so. I cannot help believing that if you were better read in
Wordsworth you would appreciate him better. Ever since I knew what
poetry is, I have believed in him as a great poet, and I do not
understand how reasonably there can be a doubt of it. Will you
remember that nearly all the first minds of the age have admitted
his power (without going to intrinsic evidence), and then say that
he _can_ be a mere Grub Street writer? It is not that he is only or
chiefly admired by the _profanum vulgus_, that he is a mere popular
and fashionable poet, but that men of genius in this and other
countries unite in confessing his genius. And is not this a
significant circumstance--significant, at least?...
Believe me, yourself, your affectionate and grateful
How kind you are, far too kind, about the Cyprus wine; I thank you
_To Mrs. Martin_
October 5, 1844.
My dearest Mrs. Martin,--... Well, papa came back from Cornwall just
as I came back to my own room, and he was as pleased with his quarry
as I was to have the sight again of his face. During his absence,
Henrietta had a little polka (which did not bring the house down on
its knees), and I had a transparent blind put up in my open window.
There is a castle in the blind, and a castle gate-way, and two walks,
and several peasants, and groves of trees which rise in excellent
harmony with the fall of my green damask curtains--new, since you
saw me last. Papa insults me with the analogy of a back window in a
confectioner's shop, but is obviously moved when the sunshine lights
up the castle, notwithstanding. And Mr. Kenyon and everybody in
the house grow ecstatic rather than otherwise, as they stand in
contemplation before it, and tell me (what is obvious without their
evidence) that the effect is beautiful, and that the whole room
catches a light from it. Well, and then Mr. Kenyon has given me a new
table, with a rail round it to consecrate it from Flush's paws, and
large enough to hold all my varieties of vanities.
I had another letter from Miss Martineau the other day, and she says
she has a 'hat of her own, a parasol of her own,' and that she can
'walk a mile with ease.' _What do miracles mean_? Miracle or not,
however, one thing is certain--it is very joyful; and her own
sensations on being removed suddenly from the verge of the prospect
of a most painful death--a most painful and lingering death--must be
strange and overwhelming.
I hope I may hear soon from you that you had much pleasure at Clifton,
and some benefit in the air and change, and that dear Mr. Martin and
yourself are both as well as possible. Do you take in 'Punch'? If not,
you _ought_. Mr. Kenyon and I agreed the other day that we should be
more willing 'to take our politics' from 'Punch' than from any other
of the newspaper oracles. 'Punch' is very generous, and I like him for
everything, except for his rough treatment of Louis Philippe, whom
I believe to be a great man--for a king. And then, it is well worth
fourpence to laugh once a week. I do recommend 'Punch' to you.
Douglas Jerrold is the editor, I fancy, and he has a troop of 'wits,'
such as Planche, Titmarsh, and the author of 'Little Peddlington,' to
Now I have written enough to tire you, I am sure. May God bless
you both! Did you read 'Coningsby,' that very able book, without
character, story, or specific teaching? It is well worth reading, and
worth wondering over. D'Israeli, who is a man of genius, has written,
nevertheless, books which will live longer, and move deeper. But
everybody should read 'Coningsby.' It is a sign of the times. Believe
me, my dearest Mrs. Martin,
Your very affectionate
_To John Kenyon_
Tuesday, October 8, 1844.
Thank you, my dearest cousin, for your kind little note, which I run
the chance of answering by that Wednesday's post you think you may
wait for. So (_via_ your table) I set about writing to you, and the
first word, of course, must be an expression of my contentment with
the 'Examiner' review. Indeed, I am more than contented--delighted
with it. I had some dread, vaguely fashioned, about the 'Examiner';
the very delay looked ominous. And then, I thought to myself, though
I did not say, that if Mr. Forster praised the verses on Flush to you,
it was just because he had no sympathy for anything else. But it is
all the contrary, you see, and I am the more pleased for the want of
previous expectation; and I must add that if _you_ were so kind as to
be glad of being associated with me by Mr. Forster's reference, _I_
was so _human_ as to be very very glad of being associated with _you_
by the same. Also you shall criticise 'Geraldine' exactly as you
like--mind, I don't think it all so rough as the extracts appear to
be, and some variety is attained by that playing at ball with
the _pause_, which causes the apparent roughness--still you shall
criticise 'Geraldine' exactly as you like. I have a great fancy for
writing some day a longer poem of a like class--a poem comprehending
the aspect and manners of modern life, and flinching at nothing of the
conventional. I think it might be done with good effect. You said once
that Tennyson had done it in 'Locksley Hall,' and I half agreed with
you. But looking at 'Locksley Hall' again, I find that not much has
been done in that _way_, noble and passionate and _full_ as the poem
is in other ways. But there is no story, no _manners_, no modern
allusion, except in the grand general adjuration to the 'Mother-age,'
and no approach to the treatment of a conventionality. But Crabbe, as
you say, has done it, and Campbell in his 'Theodore' in a few touches
was near to do it; but _Hayley_ clearly apprehends the species of poem
in his 'Triumphs of Temper' and 'Triumphs of Music,' and so did Miss
Seward, who called it the '_poetical novel_.' Now I do think that a
true poetical novel--modern, and on the level of the manners of the
day--might be as good a poem as any other, and much more popular
besides. Do you not think so?
I had a letter from dear Miss Mitford this morning, with yours, but I
can find nothing in it that you will care to hear again. She complains
of the vagueness of 'Coningsby,' and praises the French writers--a
sympathy between us, that last, which we wear hidden in our sleeves
for the sake of propriety. Not a word of coming to London, though I
asked. Neither have I heard again from Miss Martineau....
Ever most affectionately and gratefully yours,
[Footnote 114: It will be remembered that 'Punch' had only been in
existence for three years at this time, which will account for this
apparently superfluous advice.]
_To Mrs. Martin_
October 15, 1844.
... Not a word more have I heard from Miss Martineau; and shall not
soon, perhaps, as she is commanded not to write, not to read--to do
nothing, in fact, except the getting better. I am not, I confess,
quite satisfied myself. But she herself appears to be so altogether,
and she speaks of '_symptoms_ having given way,' implying a structural
change. Yes, I use the common phrase in respect to mesmerism, and
think 'there is something in it.' Only I think, besides, that,
if something, there must be a great deal in it. Clairvoyance has
precisely the same evidence as the phenomenon of the trance has, and
scientific and philosophical minds are recognising all the phenomena
_as facts_ on all sides of us. Mr. Kenyon's is the best distinction,
and the immense quantity of _humbug_ which embroiders the truth
over and over, and round and round, makes it needful: 'I believe in
mesmerism, but not in _mesmerists_.'
We have had no other letter from our Egyptians, but can wait a little
longer without losing our patience.
The blind rises in favour, and the ivy would not fall, if it would but
live. Alas! I am going to try _guano_ as a last resource. You see, in
painting the windows, papa was forced to have it taken down, and the
ivy that grows on ruins and oaks is not usually taken down 'for the
nonce.' I think I shall have a myrtle grove in two or three large pots
inside the window. I have a mind to try it.
I heard twice from dear Mr. Kenyon at Dover, where he was detained by
the weather, but not since his entrance into France. Which is grand
enough word for the French Majesty itself--'entrance into France.' By
the way, I do hope you have some sympathy with me in my respect for
the King of the French--that right kingly king, Louis Philippe. If
France had _borne_ more liberty, he would not have withheld it, and,
for the rest, and in all truly royal qualities, he is the noblest
king, according to my idea, in Europe--the most royal king in the
encouragement of art and literature, and in the honoring of artists
and men of letters. Let a young unknown writer accomplish a successful
tragedy, and the next day he sits at the king's table--not in a
metaphor, but face to face. See how different the matter is in our
court, where the artists are shown up the back stairs, and where no
poet (even by the back stairs) can penetrate, unless so fortunate
as to be a banker also. What is the use of kings and queens in these
days, except to encourage arts and letters? Really I cannot see.
Anybody can hunt an otter out of a box--who has nerve enough.
I had a letter from America to-day, and heard that my book was not
published there until the fifth of this October. Still, a few copies
had preceded the publication, and made way among the critics, and
several reviews were in the course of germinating very greenly. Yes,
I was delighted with the 'Examiner,' and all the more so from having
interpreted the long delay of the notice, the gloomiest manner
possible. My friends try to persuade me that the book is making some
impression, and I am willing enough to be convinced. Thank you for all
your kind sympathy, my dear friend.
Now, do write to me soon again! Have you read Dr. Arnold's Life? I
have not, but am very anxious to do so, from the admirable extracts
in the 'Examiner' of last Saturday, and also from what I hear of it in
other quarters. That Dr. Arnold must have been _a man_, in the largest
and noblest sense. May God bless you, both of you! I think of you,
dearest Mrs. Martin, much, and remain
Your very affectionate
_To John Kenyon_
Saturday, October 29, 1844.
The moral of your letter, my dearest cousin, certainly is that no
green herb of a secret will spring up and flourish between you and me.
The loss of Flush was a secret. My aunt's intention of coming to
England (for I know not how to explain what she said to you, but by
the supposition of an unfulfilled intention!) was a secret. And Mr.
Chorley's letter to me was a third secret. All turned into light!
For the last, you may well praise me for discretion. The letter he
wrote was pleasanter to me than many of the kindnesses (apart from
your own) occasioned by my book--and when you asked me once 'what
letters I had received,' if ever a woman deserved to be canonised
for her silence, _I_ did! But the effort was necessary--for he
particularly desired that I would not mention to 'our common friends'
the circumstance of his having written to me; and 'common friends'
could only stand for 'Mr. Kenyon and Miss Mitford.' Of course what you
tell me, of his liking the poems better still, is delightful to hear;
but he reviewed them in the 'Athenaeum' surely! The review we read in
the 'Athenaeum' was by his hand--could not be mistaken ...
Well; but Flushie! It is too true that he has been lost--lost and won;
and true besides that I was a good deal upset by it _meo more_; and
that I found it hard to eat and sleep as usual while he was in the
hands of his enemies. It is a secret too. We would not tell papa of
it. Papa would have been angry with the unfortunate person who took
Flush out without a chain; and would have kicked against the pricks of
the necessary bribing of the thief in order to the getting him back.
Therefore we didn't tell papa; and as I had a very bad convenient
headache the day my eyes were reddest, I did not see him (except once)
till Flush was on the sofa again. As to the thieves, you are very kind
to talk daggers at them; and I feel no inclination to say 'Don't.' It
is quite too bad and cruel. And think of their exceeding insolence
in taking Flush away from this very door, while Arabel was waiting to
have the door opened on her return from her walk; and in observing (as
they gave him back for six guineas and a half) that they intended to
have him again at the earliest opportunity and that _then_ they must
have _ten_ guineas! I tell poor Flushie (while he looks very earnestly
in my face) that he and I shall be ruined at last, and that I shall
have no money to buy him cakes; but the worst is the anxiety! Whether
I am particularly silly, or not, I don't know; they say here, that I
am; but it seems to me impossible for anybody who really cares for a
dog, to think quietly of his being in the hands of those infamous men.
And then I know how poor Flushie must feel it. When he was brought
home, he began to cry in his manner, whine, as if his heart was full!
It was just what I was inclined to do myself--' and thus was Flushie
lost and won.'
But we are both recovered now, thank you; and intend to be very
prudent for the future. I am delighted to think of your being in
England; it is the next best thing to your being in London. In regard
to Miss Martineau, I agree with you word for word; but I cannot
overcome an additional _horror_, which you do not express, or feel
There is an excellent refutation of Puseyism in the 'Edinburgh
Review'--by whom? and I have been reading besides the admirable
paper by Macaulay in the same number. And now I must be done; having
resolved to let you hear without a post's delay. Otherwise I might
have American news for you, as I hear that a packet has come in.
My brothers arrived in great spirits at Malta, after a _three weeks'
voyage_ from Gibraltar; and must now be in Egypt, I think and trust.
May God bless you, my dear cousin.
Most affectionately yours,
_To John Kenyan_
50 Wimpole Street: November 5, 1844.
Well, but am I really so bad? ' _Et tu_!' Can _you_ call me careless?
Remember all the altering of manuscript and proof--and remember how
the obscurities used to fly away before your cloud-compelling, when
you were the Jove of the criticisms! That the books (I won't call
them _our_ books when I am speaking of the faults) are remarkable for
defects and superfluities of evil, I can see quite as well as another;
but then I won't admit that ' it comes' of my carelessness, and
refusing to take pains. On the contrary, my belief is, that very few
writers called ' correct ' who have selected classical models to work
from, pay more laborious attention than I do habitually to the forms
of thought and expression. ' Lady Geraldine ' was an exception in her
whole history. If I write fast sometimes (and the historical fact is
that what has been written fastest, has pleased most), l am not apt
to print without consideration. I appeal to Philip sober, if I am!
My dearest cousin, do remember! As to the faults, I do not think of
defending them, be very sure. My consolation is, that I may try to do
better in time, if I may talk of time. The worst fault of all, as far
as expression goes (the adjective-substantives, whether in prose or
verse, I cannot make up my mind to consider faulty), is that kind of
obscurity which is the same thing with inadequate expression. Be very
sure--try to be very sure--that I am not obstinate and self-opiniated
beyond measure. To _you_ in case, who have done so much for me, and
who think of me so more than kindly, I feel it to be both duty and
pleasure to defer and yield. Still, you know, we could not, if we were
ten years about it, alter down the poems to the terms of all these
reviewers. You would not desire it, if it were possible. I do not
remember that you suggested any change in the verse on Aeschylus. The
critic mistakes my allusion, which was to the fact that in the
acting of the Eumenides, when the great tragic poet did actually
'frown as the gods did,' women fell down fainting from the benches.
I did not refer to the effect of his human countenance 'during
composition.' But I am very grateful to the reviewer whoever he may
be--very--and with need. See how the 'Sun' shines in response to
'Blackwood' (thank you for sending me that notice), when previously we
had had but a wintry rag from the same quarter! No; if I am not spoilt
by _your kindness_, I am not likely to be so by any of these exoteric
praises, however beyond what I expected or deserved. And then I am
like a bird with one wing broken. Throw it out of the window; and
after the first feeling of pleasure in liberty, it falls heavily. I
have had moments of great pleasure in hearing whatever good has been
thought of the poems; but the feeling of _elation_ is too strong or
rather too _long_ for me....
Can it be true that Mr. Newman has at last joined the Church of
Rome? If it is true, it will do much to prove to the most
illogical minds the real character of the late movement. It will prove
what the _point of sight_ is, as by the drawing of a straight line.
Miss Mitford told me that he had lately sent a message to a R.
Catholic convert from the English Church, to the effect--'you have
done a good deed, but not at a right time.' It can but be a question
of time, indeed, to the whole party; at least to such as are
logical--and honest.... [_Unsigned_]
[Footnote 115: In _Blackwood_.]
[Footnote 116: Newman did not actually enter the Church of Rome until
nearly a year later, in October 1845.]
_To John Kenyan_
50 Wimpole Street: November 8, 1844.
Thank you, my dear dear cousin, for the kind thought of sending me Mr.
Eagles's letter, and most for your own note. You know we _both_ saw
that he couldn't have written the paper in question; we _both_ were
poets and prophets by that sign, but I hope he understands that I
shall gratefully remember what his intention was. As to his 'friend'
who told him that I had 'imitated Tennyson,' why I can only say and
feel that it is very particularly provoking to hear such things said,
and that I wish people would find fault with my 'metre' in the place
of them. In the matter of 'Geraldine' I shall not be puffed up. I
shall take to mind what you suggest. Of course, if you find it hard to
read, it must be my fault. And then the fact of there being a _story_
to a poem will give a factitious merit in the eyes of many critics,
which could not be an occasion of vainglory to the consciousness of
the most vainglorious of writers. You made me smile by your suggestion
about the aptitude of critics aforesaid for courting Lady Geraldines.
Certes--however it may be--the poem has had more attention than its
due. Oh, and I must tell you that I had a letter the other day
from Mr. Westwood (one of my correspondents unknown) referring to
'Blackwood,' and observing on the mistake about Goethe. 'Did you not
mean "fell" the verb,' he said, 'or do _I_ mistake?' So, you see, some
people in the world did actually understand what I meant. I am eager
to prove that possibility sometimes.
How full of life of mind Mr. Eagles's letter is. Such letters always
bring me to think of Harriet Martineau's pestilent plan of doing to
destruction half of the intellectual life of the world, by suppressing
every mental breath breathed through the post office. She was not in
a state of clairvoyance when she said such a thing. I have not heard
from her, but you observed what the 'Critic' said of William Howitt's
being empowered by her to declare the circumstances of her recovery?
Again and again have I sent for Dr. Arnold's 'Life,' and I do hope to
have it to-day. I am certain, by the extracts, besides your opinion,
that I shall be delighted with it.
Why shouldn't Miss Martineau's apocalyptic housemaid tell us
whether Flush has a soul, and what is its 'future destination'? As
to the fact of his soul, I have long had a strong opinion on it. The
'grand peut-etre,' to which 'without revelation' the human argument is
reduced, covers dog-nature with the sweep of its fringes.
Did you ever read Bulwer's 'Eva, or the Unhappy Marriage'? _That_ is
a sort of poetical novel, with modern manners inclusive. But Bulwer,
although a poet in prose, writes all his rhythmetical compositions
somewhat prosaically, providing an instance of that curious difference
which exists between the poetical writer and the poet. It is easier
to give the instance than the reason, but I suppose the cause of the
rhythmetical impotence must lie somewhere in the want of the power of
concentration. For is it not true that the most prolix poet is capable
of briefer expression than the least prolix prose writer, or am I
Your ever affectionate
[Footnote 117: Miss Martineau, besides having been cured by mesmerism
herself, was blest with a housemaid who had visions under the same
influence, concerning which Miss Martineau subsequently wrote at great
length in the _Athenaeum_.]
_To Cornelius Mathews_
50 Wimpole Street: November 14, 1844.
My dear Mr. Mathews,--I write to tell you--only that there is nothing
to tell--only in guard of my gratitude, lest you should come to
think all manner of evil of me and of my supposed propensity to let
everything pass like Mr. Horne's copies of the American edition of his
work, _sub silentio_. Therefore I must write, and you are to please to
understand that I have not up to this moment received either letter or
book by the packet of October 10 which was charged, according to your
intimation, with so much. I, being quite out of patience and out of
breath with expectation, have repeatedly sent to Mr. Putnam, and he
replies with undisturbed politeness that the ship has come in, and
that his part and lot in her, together with mine, remain at the
disposal of the Custom-house officers, and may remain some time
longer. So you see how it is. I am waiting--simply _waiting_, and it
is better to let you know that I am not forgetting instead.
In the meantime, your kindness will be glad to learn of the prosperity
of my poems in my own country. I am more than satisfied in my most
sanguine hope for them, and a little surprised besides. The critics
have been good to me. 'Blackwood' and 'Tait' have this month both been
generous, and the 'New Monthly' and 'Ainsworth's Magazine' did what
they could. Then I have the 'Examiner' in my favor, and such heads and
hearts as are better and purer than the purely critical, and I am very
glad altogether, and very grateful, and hope to live long enough to
acknowledge, if not to justify, much unexpected kindness. Of course,
some hard criticism is mixed with the liberal sympathy, as you will
see in 'Blackwood,' but some of it I deserve, even in my own eyes; and
all of it I am willing to be patient under. The strange thing is, that
without a single personal friend among these critics, they should have
expended on me so much 'gentillesse,' and this strangeness I feel
very sensitively. Mr. Horne has not returned to England yet, and in a
letter which I received from him some fortnight ago he desired to have
my book sent to him to Germany, just as if he never meant to return to
England again. I answered his sayings, and reiterated, in a way
that would make you smile, my information about your having sent the
American copies to him. I made my _oyez_ very plain and articulate.
He won't say again that he never heard of it--be sure of _that_. Well,
and then Mr. Browning is not in England either, so that whatever you
send for _him_ must await his return from the east or the west or
the south, wherever he is. The new spirit of the age is a wandering
spirit. Mr. Dickens is in Italy. Even Miss Mitford _talks_ of going to
France, which is an extreme case for _her_. Do you never feel inclined
to flash across the Atlantic to us, or can you really remain still in
I must not forget to assure you, dear Mr. Mathews, as I may
conscientiously do, even before I have looked into or received the
'Democratic Review,' that whatever fault you may find with me, my
strongest feeling on reading your article will or must be _the sense
of your kindness_. Of course I do not expect, nor should I wish, that
your personal interest in me (proved in so many ways) would destroy
your critical faculty in regard to me. Such an expectation, if I had
entertained it, would have been scarcely honorable to either of us,
and I may assure you that I never did entertain it. No; be at
rest about the article. It is not likely that I shall think it
'inadequate.' And I may as well mention in connection with it that
before you spoke of reviewing me _I_ (in my despair of Mr. Horne's
absence, and my impotency to assist your book) had thrown into my
desk, to watch for some opportunity of publication, a review of your
'Poems on Man,' from my own hand, and that I am still waiting and
considering and taking courage before I send it to some current
periodical. There is a difficulty--there is a feeling of shyness on
my part, because, as I told you, I have no personal friend or
introduction among the pressmen or the critics, and because the
'Athenaeum,' which I should otherwise turn to first, has already
treated of your work, and would not, of course, consent to reconsider
an expressed opinion. Well, I shall do it somewhere. Forgive me the
_appearance_ of my impotency under a general aspect.
Ah, you cannot guess at the estate of poetry in the eyes of even
such poetical English publishers as Mr. Moxon, who can write sonnets
himself. Poetry is in their eyes just a desperate speculation. A poet
must have tried his public before he tries the publisher--that is,
before he expects the publisher to run a risk for him. But I will make
any effort you like to suggest for any work of yours; I only tell you
how _things are_. By the way, if I ever told you that Tennyson was
ill, I may as rightly tell you now that he is well, again, or was
when I last heard of him. I do not know him personally. Also Harriet
Martineau can walk five miles a day with ease, and believes in
mesmerism with all her strength. Mr. Putnam had the goodness to write
and open his reading room to me, who am in prison instead in mine.
May God bless you. Do let me hear from you soon, and believe me ever
_To Mrs. Martin_
November 16, 1844.
My dearest Mrs. Martin, ... To-day I perceive in the 'contents' of the
new 'Westminster Review' that my poems are reviewed in it, and I hope
that you will both be interested enough in my fortunes to read at the
library what may be said of them. Did George tell you that he imagined
(as I also did) the 'Blackwood' paper to be by Mr. Phillimore the
barrister? Well, Mr. Phillimore denies it altogether, has in fact
quarrelled with Christopher North, and writes no more for him, so that
I am quite at a loss now where to carry my gratitude.
Do write to me soon. I hear that everybody should read Dr. Arnold's
'Life.' Do you know also 'E[=o]then,' a work of genius? You have read,
perhaps, Hewitt's 'Visits to Remarkable Places' in the first series
and second; and Mrs. Jameson's 'Visits and Sketches' and 'Life
in Mexico.' Do you know the 'Santa Fe Expedition,' and Custine's
'Russia,' and 'Forest Life' by Mrs. Clavers? You will think that my
associative process is in a most disorderly state, by all this running
up and down the stairs of all sorts of subjects, in the naming of
books. I would write a list, more as a list should be written, if I
could see my way better, and this will do for a beginning in any case.
You do not like romances, I believe, as I do, and then nearly every
romance now-a-days sets about pulling the joints of one's heart and
soul out, as a process of course. 'Ellen Middleton' (which I have
not read yet) is said to be very painful. Do you know Leigh Hunt's
exquisite essays called 'The Indicator and Companion' &c., published
by Moxon? I hold them at once in delight and reverence. May God bless
I am ever your affectionate
_To Mrs. Martin_
50 Wimpole Street:
Tuesday, November 26, 1844 [postmark].
My dearest Mrs. Martin,--I thank you much for your little notes; and
you know too well how my sympathy answers you, 'as face to face in a
glass,' for me to assure you of it here. Your account of yourselves
altogether I take to be satisfactory, because I never expected anybody
to gain strength very _rapidly_ while in the actual endurance of hard
medical discipline. I am glad you have found out a trustworthy adviser
at Dover, but I feel nevertheless that you may _both trust_ and _hope_
in Dr. Bright, of whom I heard the very highest praises the other
Now really I don't know why I should fancy you to be so deeply
interested in Dr. Bright, that all this detail should be necessary.
What I _do_ want you to be interested in, is in Miss Martineau's
mesmeric experience, for a copy of which, in the last
'Athenaeum,' I have sent ever since yesterday, in the intention of
sending it to you. You will admit it to be curious as philosophy, and
beautiful as composition; for the rest, I will not answer. Believing
in mesmerism as an agency, I hesitate to assent to the necessary