Part 5 out of 9
connection between Miss Martineau's cure and the power; and also I am
of opinion that unbelievers will not very generally become converts
through her representations. There is a tone of exaltation which
will be observed upon, and one or two sentences are suggestive to
scepticism. I will send it to you when I get the number. I understand
that an intimate friend of hers (a lady) travelled down from the
south of England to Tynemouth, simply to try to prevent the public
exposition, but could not prevail. Mr. Milnes has, besides, been her
visitor. He is fully a believer, she says, and affirms to having seen
the same phenomena in the East, but regards the whole subject with
_horror_. This still appears to be Mrs. Jameson's feeling, as you
know it is mine. Mrs. Jameson came again to this door with a note, and
overcoming by kindness, was let in on Saturday last; and sate with me
for nearly an hour, and so ran into what my sisters call 'one of my
sudden intimacies' that there was an embrace for a farewell. Of course
she won my affections through my vanity (Mr. Martin will be sure to
say, so I hasten to anticipate him) and by exaggerations about my
poetry; but really, and although my heart beat itself almost to pieces
for fear of seeing her as she walked upstairs, I do think I should
have liked her _without the flattery_. She is very light--has the
lightest of eyes, the lightest of complexions; no eyebrows, and what
looked to me like very pale red hair, and thin lips of no colour at
all. But with all this indecision of exterior the expression is
rather acute than soft; and the conversation in its principal
characteristics, analytical and examinative; throwing out no thought
which is not as clear as glass--critical, in fact, in somewhat of
an austere sense. I use 'austere,' of course, in its intellectual
relation, for nothing in the world could be kinder, or more graciously
kind, than her whole manner and words were to me. She is coming again
in two or three days, she says. Yes, and she said of Miss Martineau's
paper in the 'Athenaeum,' that she very much doubted the wisdom of
publishing it now; and that for the public's sake, if not for her own,
Miss M. should have waited till the excitement of recovered health
had a little subsided. She said of mesmerism altogether that she was
inclined to believe it, but had not finally made up her convictions.
She used words so exactly like some I have used myself that I must
repeat them, 'that if there was _anything_ in it, there was _so much_,
it became scarcely possible to limit consequences, and the subject
grew awful to contemplate.' ...
On Saturday I had some copies of my American edition, which dazzle the
English one; and one or two reviews, transatlantically transcendental
in 'oilie flatterie.' And I heard yesterday from the English publisher
Moxon, and he was 'happy to tell me that the work was selling very
well,' and this without an inquiry on my part. To say the truth, I
was _afraid_ to inquire. It is good news altogether. The 'Westminster
Review' won't be out till next month.
Wordsworth is so excited about the railroad that his wife persuaded
him to go away to recover his serenity, but he has returned raging
worse than ever. He says that fifty members of Parliament have
promised him their opposition. He is wrong, I think, but I also
consider that if the people remembered his genius and his age, and
suspended the obnoxious Act for a few years, they would be right....
May God bless you both.
Most affectionately yours,
[Footnote 118: The _Athenaum_ of November 23 contained the first of
a series of articles by Miss Martineau, giving her experiences of
_To James Martin_
December 10, 1844.
I have been thinking of you, my dear Mr. Martin, more and more the
colder it has been, and had made up my mind to write to-day, let me
feel as dull as I might. So, the vane only turns to _you_ instead
of to dearest Mrs. Martin in consequence of your letter--your letter
makes _that_ difference. I should have written to Dover in any
You are to know that Miss Martineau's mesmeric experience is only
peculiar as being Harriet Martineau's, otherwise it exhibits the mere
commonplaces of the agency. You laugh, I see. I wish I could laugh
too. I mean, I seriously wish that I could disbelieve in the reality
of the power, which is in every way most repulsive to me....
Mrs. Martin is surprised at me and others on account of our 'horror.'
Surely it is a natural feeling, and she would herself be liable to it
if she were _more credulous_. The agency seems to me like the shaking
of the flood-gates placed by the Divine Creator between the unprepared
soul and the unseen world. Then--the subjection of the will and vital
powers of one individual to those of another, to the extent of the
apparent solution of the very identity, is abhorrent from me. And then
(as to the expediency of the matter, and to prove how far believers
may be carried) there is even now a religious sect at Cheltenham, of
persons who call themselves advocates of the 'third revelation,' and
profess to receive their system of theology entirely from patients in
In the meantime, poor Miss Martineau, as the consequence of her desire
to speak the truth as she apprehends it, is overwhelmed with atrocious
insults from all quarters. For my own part I would rather fall into
the hands of God than of man, and suffer as she did in the body,
instead of being the mark of these cruel observations. But she has
singular strength of mind, and calmly continues her testimony.
Miss Mitford writes to me: 'Be sure it is _all true_. I see it every
day in my Jane'--her maid, who is mesmerised for deafness, but not,
I believe, with much success curatively. As a remedy, the success
has been far greater in the Martineau case than in others. With
Miss Mitford's maid, the sleep is, however, produced; and the girl
professed, at the third _seance_, to be able to _see behind her_.
I am glad I have so much interesting matter to look forward to in the
'Eldon Memoirs' as Pincher's biography. I am only in the first volume.
Are English chancellors really made of such stuff? I couldn't have
thought it. Pincher will help to reconcile me to the Law Lords
And, to turn from Tory legislators, I am vainglorious in announcing to
you that the Anti-Corn-Law League has taken up my poems on the top of
its pikes as antithetic to 'War and Monopoly.' Have I not had a sonnet
from Gutter Lane? And has not the journal called the 'League' reviewed
me into the third heaven, high up--above the pure ether of the five
points? Yes, indeed. Of course I should be a (magna) chartist for
evermore, even without the previous predilection.
And what do you and Mrs. Martin say about O'Connell? Did you read
last Saturday's 'Examiner'? Tell her that I welcomed her kind letter
heartily, and that this is an answer to both of you. My best love
to her always. May God bless you, dear Mr. Martin! Probably I have
written your patience to an end. If papa or anybody were in the room,
I should have a remembrance for you.
I remain, myself,
_To Mrs. Martin_
Wednesday [December 1844].
My dearest Mrs. Martin,--Hardly had my letter gone to you yesterday,
when your kind present and not _et_ arrived. I thank you for my boots
with more than the warmth of the worsted, and feel all their merits to
my soul (each sole) while I thank you. A pair of boots or shoes
which 'can't be kicked off' is something highly desirable for me, in
Wilson's opinion; and this is the first thing which struck _her_.
But the 'great idea' 'a propos des bottes,' which occurred to myself,
ought to be unspeakable, like Miss Martineau's great ideas--for I do
believe it was--that I needn't have the trouble every morning, _now_,
of putting on my stockings....
My voice is thawing too, with all the rest. If the cold had lasted
I should have been dumb in a day or two more, and as it was, I was
forced to refuse to see Mrs. Jameson (who had the goodness to come
again) because I couldn't speak much above my breath. But I was
tolerably well and brave upon the whole. Oh, these murderous English
winters. The wonder is, how anybody can live through them....
Did I tell you, or Mr. Martin, that Rogers the poet, at eighty-three
or four years of age, bore the bank robbery with the
light-hearted bearing of a man 'young and bold,' went out to dinner
two or three times the same week, and said witty things on his own
griefs. One of the other partners went to bed instead, and was not
likely, I heard, to 'get over it.' I felt quite glad and proud for
Rogers. He was in Germany last year, and this summer in Paris; but he
_first_ went to see Wordsworth at the Lakes.
It is a fine thing when a light burns so clear down into the socket,
isn't it? I, who am not a devout admirer of the 'Pleasures of Memory,'
do admire this perpetual youth and untired energy; it is a fine thing
to my mind. Then, there are other noble characteristics about this
Rogers. A common friend said the other day to Mr. Kenyon, 'Rogers
hates me, I know. He is always saying bitter speeches in relation to
me, and yesterday he said so and so. _But_,' he continued, 'if I were
in distress, there is one man in the world to whom I would go without
doubt and without hesitation, at once, and as to a brother, and _that_
man is _Rogers_.' Not that I would choose to be obliged to a man who
hated me; but it is an illustration of the fact that if Rogers is
bitter in his words, which we all know he is, he is always benevolent
and generous in his deeds. He makes an epigram on a man, and gives
him a thousand pounds; and the deed is the truer expression of his own
nature. An uncommon development of character, in any case.
May God bless you both!
Your most affectionate
I am going to tell you, in an antithesis, of the popularising of my
poems. I had a sonnet the other day from Gutter Lane, Cheapside, and
I heard that Count d'Orsay had written one of the stanzas of 'Crowned
and Buried' at the bottom of an engraving of Napoleon which hangs in
his room. Now I allow you to laugh at my vaingloriousness, and then
you may pin it to Mrs. Best's satisfaction in the dedication to
Dowager Majesty. By the way--no, out of the way--it is whispered that
when Queen Victoria goes to Strathfieldsea (how do you spell it?)
she means to visit Miss Mitford, to which rumour Miss Mitford (being
that rare creature, a sensible woman) says: 'May God forbid.'
[Footnote 119: A great robbery from Rogers' bank on November 23,
1844, in which the thieves carried off 40,000L worth of notes, besides
specie and securities.]
[Footnote 120: Strathfieldsaye, the Duke of Wellington's house.]
_To John Kenyan_
Wednesday morning [about December 1844].
I thank you, my dear cousin, and did so silently the day before
yesterday, when you were kind enough to bring me the review and write
the good news in pencil. I should be delighted to see you (this is to
certify) notwithstanding the frost; only my voice having suffered, and
being the ghost of itself, you might find it difficult to _hear_ me
without inconvenience. Which is for _you_ to consider, and not
for _me_. And indeed the fog, in addition to the cold, makes it
inexpedient for anyone to leave the house except upon business and
Oh no--we need not mind any scorn which assails Tennyson and _us_
together. There is a dishonor that does honor--and 'this is of it.' I
never heard of Barnes.
Were you aware that the review you brought was in a newspaper called
the 'League,' and laudatory to the utmost extravagance--praising us
too for courage in opposing 'war and monopoly'?--the 'corn ships in
the offing' being duly named. I have heard that it is probably written
by Mr. Cobden himself, who writes for the journal in question, and is
an enthusiast in poetry. If I thought so to the point of conviction,
_do you know, I should be very much pleased_? You remember that I am a
sort of (magna) chartist--only going a little farther!
Flush was properly ashamed of himself when he came upstairs again for
his most ungrateful, inexplicable conduct towards you; and I lectured
him well; and upon asking him to 'promise never to behave ill to you
again,' he kissed my hands and wagged his tail most emphatically. It
altogether amounted to an oath, I think. The truth is that Flush's
nervous system rather than his temper was in fault, and that, in that
great cloak, he saw you as in a cloudy mystery. And then, when you
stumbled over the bell rope, he thought the world was come to an end.
He is not accustomed, you see, to the vicissitudes of life. Try to
forgive him and me--for his ingratitude seems to 'strike through' to
me; and I am not without remorse.
Ever most affectionately yours,
I inclose Mr. Chorley's note which you left behind you, but which
I did not see until just now. _You_ know that I am not ashamed of
'_progress_.' On the contrary, my only hope is in it. But the question
is not _there_, nor, I think, for the public, except in cases of ripe,
established reputations, as I said before.
[Footnote 121: William Barnes, the Dorsetshire poet, the first part of
whose _Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect_ appeared in 1844.]
_To Mr. Westwood_
(On returning some illustrations of Spenser by Mr. Woods)
December 11, 1844.
... With many thanks, cordial and true, I thank you for the pleasure I
have enjoyed in connection with these proofs of genius. To be honest,
it is my own personal opinion (I give it to you for as much as it
is worth--not much!) that many of the subjects of these drawings
are unfit for graphic representation. What we can bear to see in the
poet's vision, and sustained on the wings of his divine music, we
shrink from a little when brought face to face with, as drawn out
in black and white. You will understand what I mean. The horror and
terror preponderate in the drawings, and what is sublime in the
poet is apt to be extravagant in the artist--and this, not from a
deficiency of power in the latter, but from a treading on ground
forbidden except to the poet's foot. I may be wrong, perhaps--I do
not pretend to be right. I only tell you (as you ask for them) what my
I need not say that I wish all manner of success to your friend the
artist, and laurels of the weight of gold while of the freshness of
grass--alas! an impossible vegetable!--fabulous as the Halcyon!
_To H.S. Boyd_
Monday, December 24, 1844 [postmark].
My dearest Mr. Boyd,--I wish I had a note from you to-day--which
optative aorist I am not sure of being either grammatical or
reasonable! Perhaps you have expected to hear from _me_ with more
I fancied that you would be struck by Miss Martineau's lucid and able
style. She is a very admirable woman--and the most logical intellect
of the age, for a woman. On this account it is that the men throw
stones at her, and that many of her own sex throw dirt; but if I
begin on this subject I shall end by gnashing my teeth. A righteous
indignation fastens on me. I had a note from her the other day,
written in a noble spirit, and saying, in reference to the insults
lavished on her, that she was prepared from the first for _publicity_,
and ventured it all for the sake of what she considered the truth--she
was sustained, she said, by the recollection of Godiva.
Do you remember who Godiva was--or shall I tell you? Think of
it--Godiva of Coventry, and peeping Tom. The worst and basest is, that
in this nineteenth century there are thousands of Toms to one.
I think, however, myself, and with all my admiration for Miss
Martineau, that her statement and her reasonings on it are not free
from vagueness and apparent contradictions. She writes in a state of
enthusiasm, and some of her expressions are naturally coloured by her
mood of mind and nerve.
May this Christmas give you ease and pleasantness, in various ways, my
dearest friend! My Christmas wish for myself is to hear that you are
well. I cannot bear to think of you suffering. Are the nights better?
May God bless you. Shall you not think it a great thing if the poems
go into a second edition within the twelvemonth? I am surprised at
your not being satisfied. Consider what poetry is, and that four
months have not passed since the publication of mine; and that, where
poems have to make their way by force of _themselves_, and not of name
nor of fashion, the first three months cannot present the period
of the quickest sale. That must be for afterwards. Think of me on
Christmas Day, as of one who gratefully loves you.
A passing reference in a previous letter (above, p. 217) has told of
the beginning of another friendship, which was to hold a large place
in Miss Barrett's later life; and the next letter is the first now
extant which was written to this new friend, Anna Jameson. Mrs.
Jameson had not at this time written the works on sacred art with
which her name is now chiefly associated; but she was already engaged
in her long struggle to earn her livelihood by her pen. Her first
work, 'The Diary of an Ennuyee' (1826), written before her marriage,
had attracted considerable attention. Since then she had written
her 'Characteristics of Women,' 'Essays on Shakespeare's Female
Characters,' 'Visits and Sketches,' and a number of compilations
of less importance. Quite recently she had been engaged to write
handbooks to the public and private art galleries of London, and had
so embarked on the career of art authorship in which her best work was
The beginning and end of the following letter are lost. The subject of
it is the long and hostile comment which appeared in the 'Athenaeum'
for December 28 on Miss Martineau's letters on mesmerism.
_To Mrs. Jameson_
[End of December 1844.]
... For the 'Athenaeum,' I have always held it as a journal, first--in
the very first rank--both in ability and integrity; and knowing Mr.
Dilke _is_ the 'Athenaeum,' I could make no mistake in my estimation
of himself. I have personal reasons for gratitude to both him and his
journal, and I have always felt that it was honorable to me to have
them. Also, I do not at all think that because a woman is a woman,
she is on that account to be spared the ordinary risks of the arena
in literature and philosophy. I think no such thing. Logical chivalry
would be still more radically debasing to us than any other. It is not
therefore at all as a Harriet Martineau, but as a thinking and feeling
Martineau (now _don't_ laugh), that I hold her to have been hardly
used in the late controversy. And, if you don't laugh at _that_, don't
be too grave either, with the thought of your own share and position
in the matter; because, as must be obvious to everyone (yourself
included), you did everything possible to you to prevent the
catastrophe, and no man and no friend could have done better. My
brother George told me of his conversation with you at Mr. Lough's,
but _are_ you not mistaken in fancying that she blames you, that
she is cold with you? I really think you must be. Why, if she is
displeased with you she must be unjust, _and is she ever unjust_? I
ask you. _I_ should imagine not, but then, with all my insolence of
talking of her as my friend, I only admire and love her at a distance,
in her books and in her letters, and do not know her face to face, and
in living womanhood at all. She wrote to me once, and since we have
corresponded; and as in her kindness she has called me her friend, I
leap hastily at an unripe fruit, perhaps, and echo back the word. She
is your friend in a completer, or, at least, a more ordinary sense;
and indeed it is impossible for me to believe without strong evidence
that she could cease to be your friend on such grounds as are
apparent. Perhaps she does not write because she cannot contain her
wrath against Mr. Dilke (which, between ourselves, she cannot, very
well), and respects your connection and regard for him. Is not _that_
a 'peradventure' worth considering? I am sure that you have no _right_
to be uneasy in any case.
And now I do not like to send you this letter without telling you
my impression about mesmerism, lest I seem reserved and 'afraid of
committing myself,' as prudent people are. I will confess, then,
that my _impression_ is in favour of the reality of mesmerism to some
unknown extent. I particularly dislike believing it, I would rather
believe most other things in the world; but the evidence of the 'cloud
of witnesses' does thunder and lightning so in my ears and eyes,
that I believe, while my blood runs cold. I would not be practised
upon--no, not for one of Flushie's ears, and I hate the whole
theory. It is hideous to my imagination, especially what is called
phrenological mesmerism. After all, however, truth is to be accepted;
and testimony, when so various and decisive, is an ascertainer of
truth. Now do not tell Mr. Dilke, lest he excommunicate me.
But I will not pity you for the increase of occupation produced by an
increase of such comfort as your mother's and sister's presence must
give. What it will be for you to have a branch to sun yourself on,
after a long flight against the wind!
_To Mr. Chorley_
50 Wimpole Street: January 3, 1845.
Dear Mr. Chorley,--I hope it will not be transgressing very much
against the etiquette of journalism, or against the individual
delicacy which is of more consequence to both of us, if I venture
to thank you by one word for the pages which relate to me in your
excellent article in the 'New Quarterly.' It is not my habit to thank
or to remonstrate with my reviewers, and indeed I believe I may tell
you that I never wrote to thank anyone before on these grounds. I
could not thank anyone for praising me--I would not thank him for
praising me against his conscience; and if he praised me to the
measure of his conscience only, I should have little (as far as the
praise went) to thank him for. Therefore I do not thank you for the
praise in your article, but for the kind cordial spirit which pervades
both praise and blame, for the willingness in praising, and for the
gentleness in finding fault; for the encouragement without unseemly
exaggeration, and for the criticisms without critical scorn. Allow me
to thank you for these things and for the pleasure I have received by
their means. I am bold to do it, because I hear that you confess the
reviewership; and am the bolder, because I recognised your hand in
an act of somewhat similar kindness in the 'Athenaeum' at the first
appearance of the poems.
While I am writing of the 'New Quarterly,' I take the liberty of
making a remark, not of course in relation to myself--I know too well
my duty to my judges--but to your view of the Vantage ground of the
poetesses of England. It is a strong impression with me that previous
to Joanna Baillie there was no such thing in England as a poetess;
and that so far from triumphing over the rest of the world in that
particular product, we lay until then under the feet of the world.
We hear of a Marie in Brittany who sang songs worthy to be mixed with
Chaucer's for true poetic sweetness, and in Italy a Vittoria Colonna
sang her noble sonnets. But in England, where is our poetess before
Joanna Baillie--poetess in the true sense? Lady Winchilsea had an
_eye_, as Wordsworth found out; but the Duchess of Newcastle had
more poetry in her--the comparative praise proving the negative
position--than Lady Winchilsea. And when you say of the French, that
they have only epistolary women and wits, while we have our Lady Mary,
why what would Lady Mary be to us _but_ for her letters and her wit?
Not a poetess, surely! unless we accept for poetry her graceful _vers
Do forgive me if an impulse has carried me too far. It has been long
'a fact,' to my view of the matter, that Joanna Baillie is the first
female poet in all senses in England; and I fell with the whole weight
of fact and theory against the edge of your article.
I recall myself now to my first intention of being simply, but not
silently, grateful to you; and entreating you to pardon this letter
too quickly to think it necessary-to answer it....
I remain, very truly yours,
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
_To Mr. Chorley_
50 Wimpole Street: January 7, 1845.
Dear Mr. Chorley,--You are very good to deign to answer my
impertinences, and not to be disgusted by my defamations of 'the
grandmothers,' and (to diminish my perversity in your eyes) I am ready
to admit at once that we are generally too apt to run into premature
classification--the error of all imperfect knowledge; and into
unreasonable exclusiveness--the vice of it. We spoil the shining
surface of life by our black lines drawn through and through, as
if ominously for a game of the fox and goose. For my part, however
imperfect my practice may be, I am intimately convinced--and more and
more since my long seclusion--that to live in a house with windows on
every side, so as to catch both the morning and evening sunshine, is
the best and brightest thing we have to do--to say nothing about the
justest and wisest. Sympathies are our opportunities of good.
Moreover, I know nothing of your 'sweet mistress Anne.' I never
read a verse of hers. Ignorance goes for much, you see, in all our
mal-criticisms, and my ignorance goes to this extent. I cannot write
to you of your Anglo-American poetess.
Also, in my sweeping speech about the grandmothers, I should have
stopped before such instances as the exquisite ballad of 'Auld Robin
Gray,' which is attributed to a woman, and the pathetic 'Ballow my
Babe,' which tradition calls 'Lady Anne Bothwell's Lament.' I have
certain doubts of my own, indeed, in relation to both origins, and
with regard to 'Robin Gray' in particular; but doubts are not worthy
stuff enough to be taken into an argument, and certainly, therefore,
I should have admitted those two ballads as worthy poems before the
For what I ventured to say otherwise, would you not consent to
join our sympathies, and receive the 'choir' (ah! but you are very
cunningly subtle in your distinctions; I am afraid I was too simple
for you) as agreeable writers of verses sometimes, leaving the word
_poet_ alone? Because, you see, what you call the 'bad dispensation'
by no means accounts for the want of the faculty of poetry, strictly
so called. England has had many learned women, not merely readers
but writers of the learned languages, in Elizabeth's time and
afterwards--women of deeper acquirements than are common now in the
greater diffusion of letters; and yet where were the poetesses? The
divine breath which seemed to come and go, and, ere it went,
filled the land with that crowd of true poets whom we call the old
dramatists--why did it never pass, even in the lyrical form, over the
lips of a woman? How strange! And can we deny that it was so? I look
everywhere for grandmothers and see none. It is not in the filial
spirit I am deficient, I do assure you--witness my reverent love of
Seriously, I do not presume to enter into argument with you, and this
in relation to a critical paper which I admire in so many ways and
am grateful for in some; but is not the poet a different man from the
cleverest versifier, and is it not well for the world to be taught
the difference? The divineness of poetry is far more to me than either
pride of sex or personal pride, and, though willing to acknowledge the
lowest breath of the inspiration, I cannot the 'powder and patch.' As
powder and patch I may, but not as poetry. And though I in turn may
suffer for this myself--though I too (_anch' io_) may be turned out of
'Arcadia,' and told that I am not a poet, still, I should be content,
I hope, that the divineness of poetry be proved in my humanness,
rather than lowered to my uses.
But you shall not think me exclusive. Of poor L.E.L., for instance,
I could write with _more_ praiseful appreciation than you can. It
appears to me that she had the gift--though in certain respects she
dishonored the art--and her latter lyrics are, many of them, of great
beauty and melody, such as, having once touched the ear of a reader,
live on in it. I observe in your 'Life of Mrs. Hemans' (shall I tell
you how often I have read those volumes?) she (Mrs. H.) never appears,
in any given letter or recorded opinion, to esteem her contemporary.
The antagonism lay, probably, in the higher parts of Mrs. Hemans's
character and mind, and we are not to wonder at it.
It is very pleasant to me to have your approbation of the sonnets on
George Sand, on the points of feeling and lightness, on which all my
readers have not absolved me equally, I have reason to know. I am more
a latitudinarian in literature than it is generally thought expedient
for women to be; and I have that admiration for _genius_, which dear
Mr. Kenyon calls my 'immoral sympathy with power;' and if Madame
Dudevant is not the first female genius of any country or
age, I really do not know who is. And then she has certain
noblenesses--granting all the evil and 'perilous stuff'--noblenesses
and royalnesses which make me loyal. Do pardon me for intruding all
this on you, though you cannot justify me--_you_, who are occupied
beyond measure, and _I_, who know it! I have been under the delusion,
too, during this writing, of having something like a friend's claim
to write and be troublesome. I have lived so near your friends that I
keep the odour of them! A mere delusion, alas! my only personal
right in respect to you being one that I am not likely to forget or
waive--the right of being grateful to you.
But so, and looking again at the last words of your letter, I see that
you 'wish,' in the kindest of words, 'to do something more for me.'
I hope some day to take this 'something more' of your kindness out
in the pleasure of personal intercourse; and if, in the meantime, you
should consent to flatter my delusion by letting me hear from you now
and then, if ever you have a moment to waste and inclination to waste
it, why I, on my side, shall always be ready to thank you for the
'something more' of kindness, as bound in the duty of gratitude. In
any case I remain
Truly and faithfully yours,
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
[Footnote 122: Probably Miss Anne Seward, a minor poetess who enjoyed
considerable popularity at the end of the eighteenth century. Her
elegies on Captain Cook and Major Andre went through several editions,
as did her _Louisa_, a poetical novel, a class of composition in
which she was the predecessor of Mrs. Browning herself. Her collected
poetical works were edited after her death by Sir Walter Scott
[Footnote 123: The real name of George Sand.]
_To Mr. Chorley_
[_The beginning of this letter is lost_]
... to the awful consideration of the possibility of my reading
a novel or caring for the story of it (_proh pudor!_), that I am
probably, not to say certainly, the most complete and unscrupulous
romance reader within your knowledge. Never was a child who cared more
for 'a story' than I do; never even did I myself, _as_ a child, care
more for it than I do. My love of fiction began with my breath, and
will end with it; and goes on increasing; and the heights and depths
of the consumption which it has induced you may guess at perhaps,
but it is a sublime idea from its vastness, and will gain on you but
slowly. On my tombstone may be written '_Ci-git_ the greatest novel
reader in the world,' and nobody will forbid the inscription; and I
approve of Gray's notion of paradise more than of his lyrics, when he
suggests the reading of romances ever new, [Greek: _eis tous aionas_.]
Are you shocked at me? Perhaps so. And you see I make no excuses, as
an invalid might. Invalid or not, I should have a romance in a drawer,
if not behind a pillow, and I might as well be true and say so.
There is the love of literature, which is one thing, and the love
of fiction, which is another. And then, I am not fastidious, as Mrs.
Hemans was, in her high purity, and therefore the two loves have a
This is a long preface to coming to speak of the 'Improvisatore.'
I had sent for it already to the library, and shall dun them for it
twice as much for the sake of what you say. Only I hope I may care for
the story. I shall try.
And for the _rococo_, I have more feeling for it, in a sense, than I
once had, for, some two years ago, I passed through a long dynasty
of French memoirs, which made me feel quite differently about the
littlenesses of greatnesses. I measured them all from the heights
of the 'tabouret,' and was a good Duchess, in the 'non-natural'
meaning, for the moment. Those memoirs are charming of their kind, and
if life were cut in filagree paper would be profitable reading to the
soul. Do you not think so? And you mean besides, probably, that you
care for _beauty in detail_, which we all should do if our senses were
So the confession is not a dreadful one, after all, and mine may
involve more evil, and would to ninety-nine out of a hundred 'sensible
and cultivated people.' Think what Mrs. Ellis would say to the 'Women
of England' about me in her fifteenth edition, if she knew!
And do _you_ know that dear Miss Mitford spent this day week with me,
notwithstanding the rain?
Very truly yours,
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
I have forgotten what I particularly wished to say--viz. that I never
thought of _expecting_ to hear from you. I understand that when you
write it is pure grace, and never to be expected. You have too much to
do, I understand perfectly.
The east wind seems to be blowing all my letters about to-day;
the _t's_ and _e's_ wave like willows. Now if crooked _e's_ mean a
'greenshade' (not taken rurally), what awful significance can have the
whole crooked alphabet?
[Footnote 124: By Hans Andersen; an English translation by Mary Howitt
was published in 1845.]
[Footnote 125: Duchesses in the French court had the privilege of
seating themselves on a _tabouret_ or stool while the King took his
meals; hence the _droit du tabouret_ comes to mean the rank of a
_To Mrs. Martin_
Saturday, January 1844 [should be 1845].
I must tell you, my dearest Mrs. Martin, Mr. Kenyon has read to me an
extract from a private letter addressed by H. Martineau to Moxon the
publisher, to the effect that Lord Morpeth was down on his knees
in the middle of the room a few nights ago, in the presence of the
somnambule J., and conversing with her in Greek and Latin, that the
four Miss Liddels were also present, and that they five talked to
her during one _seance_ in five foreign languages, viz. Latin, Greek,
French, Italian, and German. When the mesmeriser touches the organ of
_imitation_ on J.'s head, while the strange tongue is in the course of
being addressed to her, she translates into English word for word
what is said; but when the organ of _language_ is touched, she simply
answers in English what is said.
My 'few words of comment' upon this are, that I feel to be more and
more standing on my head--which does not mean, you will be pleased to
observe, that I understand.
Well, and how are you both going on? My voice is quite returned; and
papa continues, I am sorry to say, to have a bad cold and cough. He
means to stay in the house to-day and try what prudence will do.
We have heard from Henry, at Alexandria still, but a few days before
sailing, and he and Stormie are bringing home, as a companion to
Flushie, a beautiful little gazelle. What do you think of it? I would
rather have it than the 'babby,' though the flourish of trumpets on
the part of the possessors seems quite in favor of the latter.
And I had a letter from Browning the poet last night, which threw me
into ecstasies--Browning, the author of 'Paracelsus,' and king of the
[_The rest of this letter is missing_.]
[Footnote 126: The mention of her brothers being at Alexandria is
sufficient to show that 1845 must be the true date.]
_To Mrs. Martin_
Saturday, January 1845.
My dearest Mrs. Martin,--I believe our last letters crossed, and we
might draw lots for the turn of receiving one, so that you are to take
it for supererogatory virtue in me altogether if I begin to write to
you as 'at these presents.' But I want to know how you both are, and
if your last account may continue to be considered the true one. You
have been poising yourself on the equal balance of letters, as weak
consciences are apt to do, but I write that you may write, and also,
a little, that I may thank you for the kindness of your last letter,
which was so very kind.
No, indeed, dearest Mrs. Martin. If I do not say oftener that I have
a strong and grateful trust in your affection for me, and therefore
in your interest in all that concerns me, it is not that it is less
strong and grateful. What I said or sang of Miss Martineau's letter
was no consequence of a distrust of _you_, but of a feeling within
myself that for me to show about such a letter was scarcely becoming,
and, in the matter of modesty, nowise discreet. I suppose I was
writing excuses to myself for showing it to you. I cannot otherwise
account for the saying and singing. And, for the rest, nobody can say
or sing that I am not frank enough to you--to the extent of telling
all manner of nonsense about myself which can only be supposed to be
interesting on the ground of your being presupposed to care a little
for the person concerned. Now am I not frank enough? And by the way, I
send you 'The Seraphim' at last, by this day's railroad.
To prove to you that I had not forgotten you before your letter came,
here is the fragment of an unfinished one which I send you, to begin
with--an imperfect fossil letter, which no comparative anatomy will
bring much sense out of--except the plain fact _that you were not
From Alexandria we heard yesterday that they sailed from thence on the
first of January, and the home passage may be long.
The _changes_ in Mary Minto on account of mesmerism were merely
imaginary as far as I can understand. Nobody here observed any change
in her. Oh no. These things will be fancied sometimes. That she is an
enthusiastic girl, and that the subject took strong hold upon her, is
true enough, and not the least in the world--according to my mind--to
be wondered at. By the way, I had a letter and the present of a work
on mesmerism--Mr. Newnham's--from his daughter, who sent it to me the
other day, in the kindest way, 'out of gratitude for my poetry,' as
she says, and from a desire that it might do me physical good in the
matter of health. I do not at all know her. I wrote to thank her, of
course, for the kindness and sympathy which, as she expressed them,
quite touched me; and to explain how I did not stand in reach just
now of the temptations of mesmerism. I might have said that I shrank
nearly as much from these 'temptations' as from Lord Bacon's stew of
infant children for the purposes of witchcraft.
Well, then, I am getting deeper and deeper into correspondence with
Robert Browning, poet and mystic, and we are growing to be the truest
of friends. If I live a little longer shut up in this room, I shall
certainly know everybody in the world. Mrs. Jameson came again
yesterday, and was very agreeable, but tried vainly to convince me
that the 'Vestiges of Creation,' which I take to be one of the most
melancholy books in the world, is the most comforting, and that Lady
Byron was an angel of a wife. I persisted (in relation to the former
clause) in a 'determinate counsel' not to be a fully developed monkey
if I could help it, but when Mrs. J. assured me that she knew all
the circumstances of the separation, though she could not betray a
confidence, and entreated me 'to keep my mind open' on a subject which
would one day be set in the light, I stroked down my feathers as well
as I could, and listened to reason. You know--or perhaps you do
_not_ know--that there are two women whom I have hated all my life
long--_Lady Byron and Marie Louise_. To prove how false the public
effigy of the former is, however, Mrs. Jameson told me that she knew
_nothing of mathematics, nothing of science_, and that the element
preponderating in her mind is the _poetical_ element--that she cares
much for _my_ poetry! How deep in the knowledge of the depths of
vanity must Mrs. J. be, to tell me _that_--now mustn't she? But there
was--yes, and is--a strong adverse feeling to work upon, and it is not
Then, I have seen a copy of a note of Lord Morpeth to H. Martineau, to
the effect that he considered the mesmeric phenomena witnessed by him
(inclusive, remember, of the _languages_) to be 'equally beautiful,
wonderful, and _undeniable_' but he is prudent enough to desire that
no use should be made of this letter ... And now no more for to-day.
With love to Mr. Martin, ever believe me
[Footnote 127: A copy of the 1838 volume for which Mrs. Martin had
_To John Kenyan_
Saturday, February 8, 1845.
I return to you, dearest Mr. Kenyon, the two numbers of Jerold
Douglas's magazine, and I wish 'by that same sign' I could invoke
your presence and advice on a letter I received this morning. You
never would guess what it is, and you will wonder when I tell you that
it offers a request from the _Leeds Ladies' Committee_, authorised and
backed by the London _General Council of the League_, to your cousin
Ba, that she would write them a poem for the Corn Law Bazaar to be
holden at Covent Garden next May. Now my heart is with the cause, and
my vanity besides, perhaps, for I do not deny that I am pleased with
the request so made, and if left to myself I should be likely at once
to say 'yes,' and write an agricultural-evil poem to complete the
factory-evil poem into a national-evil circle. And I do not myself
see how it would be implicating my name with a political party to the
extent of wearing a badge. The League is not a party, but 'the meeting
of the waters' of several parties, and I am trying to persuade papa's
Whiggery that I may make a poem which will be a fair exponent of the
actual grievance, leaving the remedy free for the hands of fixed-duty
men like him, or free-trade women like myself. As to wearing the badge
of a party, either in politics or religion, I may say that never in my
life was I so far from coveting such a thing. And then poetry breathes
in another outer air. And then there is not an existent set of
any-kind-of-politics I could agree with if I tried--_I_, who am a
sort of fossil republican! You shall see the letters when you
come. Remember what the 'League' newspaper said of the 'Cry of the
Ever affectionately yours,
[Footnote 128: Evidently a slip of the pen for Douglas Jerrold, whose
'Shilling Magazine' began to come out in 1845.]
_To Miss Commeline_
50 Wimpole Street: [February-March 1845].
My dear Miss Commeline,--I do hope that you will allow me to appear
to remember you as I never have ceased to do in reality, and at a time
when sympathy of friends is generally acceptable, to offer you mine
as if I had some right of friendship to do so. And I am encouraged the
more to attempt this because I never shall forget that in the hour of
the bitterest agony of my life your brother wrote me a letter which,
although I did not read it, I was too ill and distracted, I was yet
shown the outside of some months afterwards and enabled to appreciate
the sympathy fully. Such a kindness could not fail to keep alive in
me (if the need of keeping alive _were_!) the memory of the various
kindnesses received by me and mine from all your family, nor fail to
excite me to desire to impress upon you my remembrance of _you_ and
my regard, and the interest with which I hear of your joys and sorrows
whenever they are large enough to be seen from such a distance. Try
to believe this of me, dear Miss Commeline, yourself, and let your
sisters and your brother believe it also. If sorrow in its reaction
makes us think of our friends, let my name come among the list of
yours to you, and with it let the thought come that I am not the
coldest and least sincere. May God bless and comfort you, I say, with
a full heart, knowing what afflictions like yours are and must be,
but confident besides that 'we know not what we do' in weeping for the
dearest. In our sorrow we see the rough side of the stuff; in our joys
the smooth; and who shall say that when the taffeta is turned the most
_silk_ may not be in the sorrows? It is true, however, that sorrows
are heavy, and that sometimes the conditions of life (which sorrows
are) seem hard to us and overcoming, and I believe that much suffering
is necessary before we come to learn that the world is a good place to
live in and a good place to die in for even the most affectionate and
How glad I should be to hear from you some day, when it is not
burdensome for you to write at length and fully concerning all of
you--of your sister Maria, and of Laura, and of your brother, and
of all your occupations and plans, and whether it enters into your
dreams, not to say plans, ever to come to London, or to follow the
track of your many neighbours across the seas, perhaps....
For ourselves we have the happiness of seeing our dear papa so well,
that I am almost justified in fancying happily that you would not
think him altered. He has perpetual youth like the gods, and I may
make affidavit to your brother nevertheless that we never boiled him
up to it. Also his spirits are good and his 'step on the stair' so
light as to comfort me for not being able to run up and down them
myself. I am essentially better in health, but remain weak and
shattered and at the mercy of a breath of air through a crevice; and
thus the unusually severe winter has left me somewhat lower than usual
without surprising anybody. Henrietta and Arabel are quite well and at
home; George on circuit, always obliged by your proffered hospitality;
and Charles John and Henry returning from a voyage to Alexandria in
papa's own vessel, the 'Statira.' I set you an imperfect example of
egotism, and hope that you will double my _I's_ and _we's_, and kindly
trust to me for being interested in yours....
_To H.S. Boyd_
Saturday, March 3, 1845.
My dearest Friend,--I am aware that I should have written to you
before, but the cold weather is apt to disable me and to make me feel
idle when it does not do so quite. Now I am going to write about your
remarks on the 'Dublin Review.'
Certainly I agree with you that there can be no necessity for
explaining anything about the tutorship if you do not kick against the
pricks of the insinuation yourself, and especially as I consider that
you _were_ in a sense my 'tutor,' inasmuch as I may say, both that
nobody ever taught me so much Greek as you, and also that without you
I should have probably lived and died without any knowledge of the
Greek Fathers. The Greek classics I should have studied by love
and instinct; but the Fathers would probably have remained in their
sepulchres, as far as my reading them was concerned. Therefore, very
gratefully do I turn to you as my 'tutor' in the best sense, and the
more persons call you so, the better it is for the pleasures of my
gratitude. The review amused me by hitting on the right meaning there,
and besides by its percipiency about your remembering me during your
travels in the East, and sending me home the Cyprus wine. Some of
these reviewers have a wonderful gift at inferences. The 'Metropolitan
Magazine' for March (which is to be sent to you when papa has read
it) contains a flaming article in my favour, calling me 'the friend of
Wordsworth,' and, moreover, a very little lower than the angels. You
shall see it soon, and it is only just out, of course, being the March
number. The praise is beyond thanking for, and then I do not know whom
to thank--I cannot at all guess at the writer.
I have had a kind note from Lord Teynham, whose oblivion I had ceased
to doubt, it seemed so _proved_ to me that he had forgotten me. But
he writes kindly, and it gave me pleasure to have some sign of
recollection, if not of regard, from one whom I consider with
unalterable and grateful respect, and shall always, although I am
aware that he denies all sympathy to my works and ways in literature
and the world. In fact, and to set my poetry aside, he has joined that
'strait sect' of the Plymouth Brethren, and, of course, has straitened
his views since we met, and I, by the reaction of solitude and
suffering, have broken many bands which held me at that time. He was
always straiter than I, and now the difference is immense. For I think
the world wider than I once thought it, and I see God's love broader
than I once saw it. To the 'Touch not, taste not, handle not' of the
strict religionists, I feel inclined to cry, 'Touch, taste, handle,
_all things are pure_.' But I am writing this for you and not for
him, and you probably will agree with me, if you think as you used to
think, at least.
But I do not agree with _you_ on the League question, nor on the woman
question connected with it, only we will not quarrel to-day, and I
have written enough already without an argument at the end.
Can you guess what I have been doing lately? Washing out my
conscience, effacing the blot on my escutcheon, performing an
expiation, translating over again from the Greek the 'Prometheus' of
Yes, my very dear friend, I could not bear to let that frigid, rigid
exercise, called a version and called mine, cold as Caucasus, and
flat as the neighbouring plain, stand as my work. A palinodia, a
recantation was necessary to me, and I have achieved it. Do you blame
me or not? Perhaps I may print it in a magazine, but this is not
decided. How delighted I am to think of your being well. It makes me
Your ever affectionate and grateful
_To Mr. Westwood_
March 4, 1845.
I reproach myself, dear Mr. W., for my silence, and began to do so
before your kind note reminded me of its unkindness. I had indeed
my pen in my hand three days ago to write to you, but a cross fate
plucked at my sleeve for the ninety-ninth time, and left me guilty.
And you do not write to reproach me! You only avenge yourself softly
by keeping back all news of your health, and by not saying a word
of the effect on you of the winter which has done its spiriting
so ungently. Which brings me down to myself. For somebody has been
dreaming of me, and dreams, you know, must go by contraries. And
how could it be otherwise? Although I am on the whole essentially
better--on the whole!--yet the peculiar severity of the winter has
acted on me, and the truth is that for the last month, precisely
the last month, I have been feeling (off and on, as people say)
very uncomfortable. Not that I am essentially worse, but essentially
better, on the contrary, only that the feeling of discomfort and
trouble at the heart (physically) _will_ come with the fall of the
thermometer, and the voice will go!...
And then I have another question to enunciate--will the oracle answer?
Do you know _who wrote the article in the 'Metropolitan'_? Beseech
you, answer me. I have a suspicion, true, that the critics have been
supernaturally kind to me, but the kindness of this 'Metropolitan'
critic so passes the ordinary limit of kindness, metropolitan or
critical, that I cannot but look among my personal friends for the
writer of the article. Coming to personal friends, I reject one on one
ground and one on another--for one the graciousness is too graceful,
and for another the grace almost too gracious. I am puzzled and dizzy
with doubt; and--is it you? Answer me, will you? If so, I should owe
so much gratitude to you. Suffer me to pay it!--permit the pleasure to
me of paying it!--for I know too much of the pleasures of gratitude to
be willing to lose one of them.
_To John Kenyan_
March 6, .
Thank you, dearest Mr. Kenyon--they are very fine. The poetry is in
_them_, rather than in Blair. And now I send them back, and Cunningham
and Jerrold, with thanks on thanks; and if you will be kind enough not
to insist on my reading the letters to Travis within the 'hour,'
they shall wait for the 'Responsibility,' and the two go to you
And as to the tiring, it has not been much, and the happy day was well
worth being tired _for_. It is better to be tired with pleasure than
with frost; and if I have the last fatigue too, why it is March,
and it is the hour of my martyrdom always. But I am not ill--only
Ah, the 'relenting'! it is rather a bad sign, I am afraid;
notwithstanding the subtilty of your consolations; but I stroke down
my philosophy, to make it shine, like a cat's back in the dark.
The argument from more deserving poets who prosper less is not very
comforting, is it? I trow not.
But as to the review, be sure--be very sure that it is not Mr.
Browning's. How you could _think_ even of Mr. Browning, surprises me.
Now, as for me, I know as well _as he does himself_ that he has had
nothing to do with it.
I should rather suspect Mr. Westwood, the author of some fugitive
poems, who writes to me sometimes; and the suspicion having occurred
to me, I have written to put the question directly. You shall hear, if
I hear in reply.
May God bless you always. I have heard from dear Miss Mitford.
Ever affectionately yours,
[Footnote 129: By Porson, on the authenticity of I John v. 7.]
_To H.S. Boyd_
March 29, 1845 [postmark].
My dearest Mr. Boyd,--As Arabel has written out for you the
glorification of 'Peter of York,' I shall use an edge of the same
paper to 'fall on your sense' with my gratitude about the Cyprus wine.
Indeed, I could almost upbraid you for sending me another bottle. It
is most supererogatory kindness in you to think of such a thing. And
I accept it, nevertheless, with thanks instead of remonstrances, and
promise you to drink your health in and the spring in together, and
the east wind out, if you do not object to it. I have been better for
several days, but my heart is not yet very orderly--not being able to
recover the veins, I suppose, all in a moment.
For the rest, you always mean what is right and affectionate, and I am
not apt to mistake your meanings in this respect. Be indulgent to me
as far as you can, when it appears to you that I sink far below your
religious standard, as I am sure I must do oftener than you remind
me. Also, it certainly does appear, to my mind, that we are not, as
Christians, called to the exclusive expression of Christian doctrine,
either in poetry or prose. All truth and all beauty and all music
belong to God--He is in all things; and in speaking of all, we speak
of Him. In poetry, which includes all things, 'the diapason closeth
full in God.' I would not lose a note of the lyre, and whatever He has
included in His creation I take to be holy subject enough for _me_.
That I am blamed for this view by many, I know, but I cannot see it
otherwise, and when you pay your visit to 'Peter of York' and me, and
are able to talk everything over, we shall agree tolerably well, I do
Ah, what a dream! What a thought! Too good even to come true!
I did not think that you would much like the 'Duchess May;' but among
the _profanum vulgus_ you cannot think how successful it has been.
There was an account in one of the fugitive reviews of a lady falling
into hysterics on the perusal of it, although _that_ was nothing to
the gush of tears of which there is a tradition, down the Plutonian
cheeks of a lawyer unknown, over 'Bertha in the Lane.' But these
things should not make anybody vain. It is the _story_ that has power
with people, just what _you_ do not care for!
About the reviews you ask a difficult question; but I suppose the
best, as reviews, are the 'Dublin Review,' 'Blackwood,' the 'New
Quarterly,' and the last 'American,' I forget the title at this
moment, the _Whig_ 'American,' _not_ the Democratic. The most
favorable to me are certainly the American unremembered, and the late
'Metropolitan,' which last was written, I hear, by Mr. Charles Grant,
a voluminous writer, but no poet. I consider myself singularly
happy in my reviews, and to have full reason for gratitude to the
I forgot to say that what the Dublin reviewer did me the honor of
considering an Irishism was the expression 'Do you mind' in 'Cyprus
Wine.' But he was wrong, because it occurs frequently among our elder
English writers, and is as British as London porter.
Now see how you throw me into figurative liquids, by your last Cyprus.
It is the true celestial, this last. But Arabel pleased me most by
bringing back so good an account of _you_.
Your ever affectionate and grateful
[Footnote 130: A monster bell for York Minster, then being exhibited
at the Baker Street Bazaar. Mr. Boyd was an enthusiast on bells and
_To John Kenyan_
Friday [about January-March 1845].
Dearest Mr. Kenyon,--If your good nature is still not at ease, through
doubting about how to make Lizzy happy in a book, you will like
to hear perhaps that I have thought of a certain 'Family Robinson
Crusoe,' translated from the _German_, I think, _not_ a Robinson
_purified_, mind, but a Robinson multiplied and compounded.
Children like reading it, I believe. And then there is a 'Masterman
Ready,' or some name like it, by Captain Marryat, also popular with
young readers. Or 'Seaward's Narrative,' by Miss Porter, would delight
her, as it did _me_, not so many years ago.
I mention these books, but know nothing of their price; and only
because you asked me, I do mention them. The fact is that she is not
hard to please as to literature, and will be delighted with anything.
To-day Mr. Poe sent me a volume containing his poems and tales
collected, so now I _must_ write and thank him for his dedication.
What is to be said, I wonder, when a man calls you the 'noblest of
your sex'? 'Sir, you are the most discerning of yours.' Were you
thanked for the garden ticket yesterday? No, everybody was ungrateful,
down to Flush, who drinks day by day out of his new purple cup, and
had it properly explained how _you_ gave it to him (_I_ explained
_that_), and yet never came upstairs to express to you his sense of
Affectionately yours always,
[Footnote 131: No doubt _The Swiss Family Robinson_.]
_To John Kenyan_
Saturday [beginning of April 1845].
My dearest Cousin,--After all _I_/ said to _you_, said the other day,
about Apuleius, and about what couldn't, shouldn't, and mustn't be
done in the matter, I ended by trying the unlawful art of translating
this prose into verse, and, one after another, have done all the
subjects of the Poniatowsky gems Miss Thompson sent the list of,
except _two_, which I am doing and shall finish anon. In the
meantime it comes into my head that it is just as well for you to look
over my doings, and judge whether anything in them is to the purpose,
or at all likely to be acceptable. Especially I am anxious to impress
on you that, if I could think for a moment _you would hesitate about
rejecting the whole in a body_, from any consideration for _me_, I
should not merely be vexed but pained. Am I not your own cousin, to be
ordered about as you please? And so take notice that I will not _bear_
the remotest approach to ceremony in the matter. What is wrong? what
is right? what is too much? those are the only considerations.
Apuleius is _florid_, which favored the poetical design on his
sentences. Indeed he is more florid than I have always liked to make
my verses. It is not, of course, an absolute translation, but as a
running commentary on the text it is sufficiently faithful.
But probably (I say to myself) you do not want so many illustrations,
and all too from one hand?
The two I do not send are 'Psyche contemplating Cupid asleep,' and
'Psyche and the Eagle.'
And I wait to hear how Polyphemus is to _look_--and also Adonis.
The Magazine goes to you with many thanks. The sonnet is full of force
and expression, and I like it as well as ever I did--better even!
Oh--such happy news to-day! The 'Statira' is at Plymouth, and my
brothers quite well, notwithstanding their hundred days on the sea!
_It makes me happy_.
Yours most affectionately,
You shall have your 'Radical' almost immediately. I am ashamed. _In
[Footnote 132: These versions were not published in Mrs. Browning's
lifetime, but were included in the posthumous _Last Poems_ (1862).
They now appear in the _Poetical Works_, v. 72-83.]
_To H.S. Boyd_
April 3, 1845.
My very dear Friend,--I have been intending every day to write to tell
you that the Cyprus wine is as nectareous as possible, so fit for the
gods, in fact, that I have been forced to leave it off as unfit for
_me_; it made me so feverish. But I keep it until the sun shall have
made me a little less mortal; and in the meantime recognise thankfully
both its high qualities and _your_ kind ones. How delightful it is to
have this sense of a summer at hand. _Shall_ I see you this summer, I
wonder. That is a question among my dreams.
By the last American packet I had two letters, one from a poet of
Massachusetts, and another from a poetess: the _he_, Mr. Lowell, and
the _she_, Mrs. Sigourney. She says that the sound of my poetry is
stirring the 'deep green forests of the New World;' which sounds
pleasantly, does it not? And I understand from Mr. Moxon that a new
edition will be called for before very long, only not immediately....
Your affectionate and grateful friend,
Arabel and Mr. Hunter talk of paying you a visit some day.
_To Mrs. Martin_
April 3, 1845.
My dearest Mrs. Martin,--I wrote to you not many days ago, but I must
tell you that our voyagers are safe in Sandgate break in 'an ugly
hulk' (as poor Stormie says despondingly), suffering three or four
days of quarantine agony, and that we expect to see them on Monday or
Tuesday in the full bloom of their ill humour. I am happy to think,
according to the present symptoms, that the mania for sea voyages
is considerably abated. 'Nothing could be more miserable,' exclaims
Storm; 'the only comfort of the whole four months is the safety of
the beans, tell papa'--and the safety of the beans is rather a
Pythagoraean equivalent for four months' vexation, though not
a bean of them all should have lost in freshness and value! He could
scarcely write, he said, for the chilblains on his hands, and was in
utter destitution of shirts and sheets. Oh! I have very good hopes
that for the future Wimpole Street may be found endurable.
Well, and you are at once angry and satisfied, I suppose, about
Maynooth; just as I am! satisfied with the justice as far as it goes,
and angry and disgusted at the hideous shrieks of intolerance and
bigotry which run through the country. The dissenters have very nearly
disgusted me, what with the Education clamour, and the Presbyterian
chapel cry, and now this Maynooth cry; and certainly it is wonderful
how people can see rights as rights in their own hands, and as wrongs
in the hands of their opposite neighbours. Moreover it seems to me
atrocious that we who insist on seven millions of Catholics supporting
a church they call heretical, should _dare_ to talk of our scruples
(conscientious scruples forsooth!) about assisting with a poor
pittance of very insufficient charity their 'damnable idolatry.' Why,
every cry of complaint we utter is an argument against the wrong we
have been committing for years and years, and must be so interpreted
by every honest and disinterested thinker in the world. Of course I
should prefer the Irish establishment coming down, to any endowment
at all; I should prefer a trial of the voluntary system throughout
Ireland; but as it is adjudged on all hands impossible to attempt this
in the actual state of parties and countries, why this Maynooth grant
and subsequent endowment of the Catholic Church in Ireland seem the
simple alternative, obviously and on the first principles of justice.
Macaulay was very great, was he not? He appeared to me _conclusive_ in
logic and sentiment. The sensation everywhere is extraordinary, I am
sorry really to say!
Wordsworth is in London, having been commanded up to the Queen's ball.
He went in Rogers's court dress, or did I tell you so the other day?
And I hear that the fair Majesty of England was quite 'fluttered' at
seeing him. 'She had not a word to say,' said Mrs. Jameson, who came
to see me the other day and complained of the omission as 'unqueenly;'
but I disagreed with her and thought the being '_fluttered_' far the
highest compliment. But she told me that a short time ago the Queen
confessed she never had read Wordsworth, on which a maid of honour
observed, 'That is a pity, he would do your Majesty a great deal of
good.' Mrs. Jameson declared that Miss Murray, a maid of honour, very
deeply attached to the Queen, assured her (Mrs. J.) of the answer
being quite as abrupt as _that_; as direct, and to the purpose; and
no offence intended or received. I like Mrs. Jameson better the more
I see her, and with grateful reason, she is so kind. Now do write
directly, and let me hear of you [in d]etail. And tell Mr. Martin to
make a point of coming home to us, with no grievances but political
ones. The Bazaar is to be something sublime in its degree, and I shall
have a sackcloth feeling all next week. All the rail carriages will
be wound up to radiate into it, I hear, and the whole country is to be
shot into the heart of London.
May God bless you.
Your ever affectionate
I hear that Guizot suffers intensely, and that there are fears lest he
may sink. Not that the complaint is mortal.
[Footnote 133: Referring to the Pythagorean doctrine of the sanctity
_To Mr. Westwood_
Wimpole Street: April 9, 1845.
Poor Hood! Ah! I had feared that the scene was closing on him. And I
am glad that a little of the poor gratitude of the world is laid down
at his door just now to muffle to his dying ear the harsher sounds
of life. I forgive much to Sir Robert for the sake of that
letter--though, after all, the minister is not high-hearted, or made
of heroic stuff.
I am delighted that you should appreciate Mr. Browning's high
power--very high, according to my view--very high, and various. Yes,
'Paracelsus' you _should_ have. 'Sordello' has many fine things in
it, but, having been thrown down by many hands as unintelligible, and
retained in mine as certainly of the Sphinxine literature, with all
its power, I hesitate to be imperious to you in my recommendations of
it. Still, the book _is_ worth being _studied_--study is necessary
to it, as, indeed, though in a less degree, to all the works of this
poet; study is peculiarly necessary to it. He is a true poet, and a
poet, I believe, of a large '_future in-rus, about to be_.' He is only
growing to the height he will attain.
_To Mr. Westwood_
The sin of Sphinxine literature I admit. Have I not struggled hard to
renounce it? Do I not, day by day? Do you know that I have been
told that _I_ have written things harder to interpret than Browning
himself?--only I cannot, cannot believe it--he is so very hard. Tell
me honestly (and although I attributed the excessive good nature of
the 'Metropolitan' criticism to you, I _know_ that you can speak the
truth _truly_!) if anything like the Sphinxineness of Browning, you
discover in me; take me as far back as 'The Seraphim' volume and
answer! As for Browning, the fault is certainly great, and the
disadvantage scarcely calculable, it is so great. He cuts his language
into bits, and one has to join them together, as young children do
their dissected maps, in order to make any meaning at all, and to
study hard before one can do it. Not that I grudge the study or the
time. The depth and power of the significance (when it is apprehended)
glorifies the puzzle. With you and me it is so; but with the majority
of readers, even of readers of poetry, it is not and cannot be so.
The consequence is, that he is not read except in a peculiar circle
very strait and narrow. He will not die, because the principle of
life is in him, but he will not live the warm summer life which is
permitted to many of very inferior faculty, because he does not come
out into the sun.
Faithfully your friend,
[Footnote 134: Hood died on May 3, 1845; while on his deathbed he
received from Sir Robert Peel the notification that he had conferred
on him a pension of 100L a year, with remainder to his wife.]
The following letter relates to the controversy raging round Miss
Martineau and her mesmerism. Miss Barrett had evidently referred to it
in a letter to Mr. Chorley, which has not been preserved.
_To Mr. Chorley_
50 Wimpole Street: April 28, 1845.
Dear Mr. Chorley,--I felt quite sure that you would take my postscript
for a womanish thing, and a little doubtful whether you would not
take the whole allusion (in or out of a postscript) for an impertinent
thing; but the impulse to speak was stronger than the fear of
speaking; and from the peculiarities of my position, I have come to
write by impulses just as other people talk by them. Still, if I had
known that the subject was so painful to you, I certainly would not
have touched on it, strong as my feeling has been about it, and full
and undeniable as is my sympathy with our noble-minded friend, both as
a woman and a thinker. Not that I consider (of course I cannot) that
she has made out anything like a '_fact_' in the Tynemouth story--not
that I think the evidence offered in any sort sufficient; take it as
it was in the beginning and unimpugned--not that I have been otherwise
than of opinion throughout that she was precipitate and indiscreet,
however generously so, in her mode and time of advocating the mesmeric
question; but that she is at liberty as a thinking being (in my mind)
to hold an opinion, the grounds of which she cannot yet justify to
the world. Do you not think she may be? Have you not opinions yourself
beyond what you can prove to others? Have we not all? And because some
of the links of the outer chain of a logical argument fail, or seem to
fail, are we therefore to have our 'honours' questioned, because we
do not yield what is suspended to an inner uninjured chain of at once
subtler and stronger formation? For what I venture to object to in the
argument of the 'Athenaeum' is the making a _moral obligation_ of an
_intellectual act_, which is the first step and gesture (is it not?)
in all persecution for opinion; and the involving of the 'honour' of
an opponent in the motion of recantation she is invited to. This I do
venture to exclaim against. I do cry aloud against this; and I do say
this, that when we call it 'hard,' we are speaking of it softly. Why,
consider how it is! The 'Athenaeum' has done quite enough to _disprove
the proving_ of the wreck story, and no more at all. The
disproving of the proof of the wreck story is indeed enough to
disprove the wreck story and to disprove mesmerism itself (as far as
the proof of mesmerism depends on the proof of the wreck story, and
no farther) with all doubters and undetermined inquirers; but with the
very large class of previous _believers_, this disproof of a proof
is a mere accident, and cannot be expected to have much logical
consequence. Believing that such things may be as this revelation of
a wreck, they naturally are less exacting of the stabilities of the
proving process. What we think probable we do not call severely for
the proof of. Moreover Miss Martineau is not only a believer in the
mysteries of mesmerism (and she wrote to me the other day that in
Birmingham, where she is, she has present cognisance of _three cases
of clairvoyance_), but she is a believer in the personal integrity
of her witnesses. She has what she has well called an 'incommunicable
confidence.' And this, however incommunicable, is sufficiently
comprehensible to all persons who know what personal faith is, to
place her 'honour,' I do maintain, high above any suspicion, any
charge with the breath of man's lips. I am sure you agree with me,
dear Mr. Chorley--ah! it will be a comfort and joy together. Dear Miss
Mitford and I often quarrel softly about literary life and its toils
and sorrows, she against and I in favour of; but we never could differ
about the worth and comfort of domestic affection.
Ever sincerely yours,
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
I am delighted to hear of the novel. And the comedy?
[Footnote 135: One of the visions of Miss Martineau's 'apocalyptic
housemaid' related to the wreck of a vessel in which the Tynemouth
people were much interested. Unfortunately it appeared that news of
the wreck had reached the town shortly before her vision, and that she
had been out of doors immediately before submitting to the mesmeric
_To Mr. Chorley_
50 Wimpole Street: April 28, 1845.
Dear Mr. Chorley,--... For Miss Martineau, is it not true that she
_has_ admitted her wreck story to have no proof? Surely she has.
Surely she said that the evidence was incapable, at this point of
time, of justification to the _exoteric_, and that the question had
sunk now to one of character, to which her opponent answered that it
had always _been_ one of character. And you must admit that the direct
and unmitigated manner of depreciating the reputation, not merely
of Jane Arrowsmith, but of Mrs. Wynyard, a personal friend of Miss
Martineau's to whom she professes great obligations, could not be
otherwise than exasperating to a woman of her generous temper, and
this just in the crisis of her gratitude for her restoration to life
and enjoyment by the means (as she considers it) of this friend. Not
that I feel at all convinced of her having been cured by mesmerism;
I have told her openly that I doubt it a little, and she is not angry
with me for saying so. Also, the wreck story, and (as you suggest)
the three new cases of clairvoyance; why, one _cannot_, you know, give
one's specific convictions to general sweeping testimonies, with a
mist all round them. Still, I do lean to believing this _class_ of
mysteries, and I see nothing more incredible in the apocalypse of
the wreck and other marvels of clairvoyance, than in that singular
adaptation of another person's senses, which is a common phenomenon
of the simple forms of mesmerism. If it is credible that a person in
a mesmeric sleep can taste the sourness of the vinegar on
another person's palate, I am ready to go the whole length of the
transmigration of senses. But after all, except from hearing so much,
I am as ignorant as you are, in my own experience. One of my sisters
was thrown into a sort of swoon, and could not open her eyelids,
though she heard what passed, once or twice or thrice; and she might
have been a prophetess by this time, perhaps, if, partly from her own
feeling on the subject, and partly from mine, she had not determined
never to try the experiment again. It is hideous and detestable to my
imagination; as I confessed to you, it makes my blood run backwards;
and if I were _you_, I would not (with the nervous weakness you speak
of) throw myself into the way of it, I really would not. Think of a
female friend of mine begging me to give her a lock of my hair, or
rather begging my sister to 'get it for her,' that she might send
it to a celebrated prophet of mesmerism in Paris, to have an oracle
concerning me. Did you ever, since the days of the witches, hear a
more ghastly proposition? It shook me so with horror, I had scarcely
voice to say 'no,' hough I _did_ say it very emphatically at last, I
assure you. A lock of my hair for a Parisian prophet? Why, if I had
yielded, I should have felt the steps of pale spirits treading as
thick as snow all over my sofa and bed, by day and night, and pulling
a corresponding lock of hair on my head at awful intervals. _I_, who
was born with a double set of nerves, which are always out of
order; the most excitable person in the world, and nearly the most
superstitious. I should have been scarcely sane at the end of a
fortnight, I believe of myself! Do you remember the little spirit in
gold shoe-buckles, who was a familiar of Heinrich Stilling's? Well,
I should have had a French one to match the German, with Balzac's
superfine boot-polish in place of the buckles, as surely as I lie here
a mortal woman.
I congratulate you (amid all cares and anxieties) upon the view
of Naples in the distance, but chiefly on your own happy and just
estimate of your selected position in life. It does appear to me
wonderfully and mournfully wrong, when men of letters, as it is too
much the fashion for them to do, take to dishonoring their profession
by fruitless bewailings and gnashings of teeth; when, all the time,
it must be their own fault if it is not the noblest in the world. Miss
Mitford treats me as a blind witness in this case; because I have seen
nothing of the literary world, or any other sort of world, and yet cry
against her 'pen and ink' cry. It is the cry I least like to hear from
her lips, of all others; and it is unworthy of them altogether. On the
lips of a woman of letters, it sounds like jealousy (which it
cannot be with _her_), as on the lips of a woman of the world, like
ingratitude. Madame Girardin's 'Ecole des Journalistes' deserved Jules
Janin's reproof of it; and there is something noble and touching in
that feeling of brotherhood among men of letters, which he invokes.
I am so glad to hear you say that I am right, glad for your sake and
glad for mine. In fact, there is something which is attractive to
_me_, and which has been attractive ever since I was as high as this
table, even in the old worn type of Grub Street authors and garret
poets. Men and women of letters are the first in the whole world to
me, and I would rather be the least among them, than 'dwell in the
courts of princes.'
Forgive me for writing so fast and far. Just as if you had nothing to
do but to read me. Oh, for patience for the novel.
I am, faithfully yours,
ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
_To Miss Thomson_
50 Wimpole Street: Friday, May 16, 1845 [postmark].
I write one line to thank you, dear Miss Thomson, for _your_
translation (so far too liberal, though true to the spirit of my
intention) of my work for your album. How could it _not_ be a pleasure
to me to work for you?
As to my using those manuscripts otherwise than in your service, I
do not at all think of it, and I wish to say this. Perhaps I do not
(also) partake quite your 'divine fury' for converting our sex into
Greek scholarship, and I do not, I confess, think it as desirable as
you do. Where there is a love for poetry, and thirst for beauty strong
enough to justify labour, let these impulses, which are noble, be
obeyed; but in the case of the multitude it is different; and the
mere _fashion of scholarship_ among women would be a disagreeable vain
thing, and worse than vain. You, who are a Greek yourself, know that
the Greek language is not to be learnt in a flash of lightning and
by Hamiltonian systems, but that it swallows up year after year of
studious life. Now I have a 'doxy' (as Warburton called it), that
there is no exercise of the mind so little profitable to the mind
as the study of languages. It is the nearest thing to a passive
recipiency--is it not?--as a mental action, though it leaves one as
weary as ennui itself. Women want to be made to _think actively_:
their apprehension is quicker than that of men, but their defect lies
for the most part in the logical faculty and in the higher mental
activities. Well, and then, to remember how our own English poets
are neglected and scorned; our poets of the Elizabethan age! I would
rather that my countrywomen began by loving _these_.
Not that I would blaspheme against Greek poetry, or depreciate the
knowledge of the language as an attainment. I congratulate _you_ on
it, though I never should think of trying to convert other women into
a desire for it. Forgive me.
To think of Mr. Burges's comparing my Nonnus to the right Nonnus makes
my hair stand on end, and the truth is I had flattered myself that
nobody would take such trouble. I have not much reverence for Nonnus,
and have pulled him and pushed him and made him stand as I chose,
never fearing that my naughty impertinences would be brought to light.
For the rest, I thank you gratefully (and may I respectfully and
gratefully thank Miss Bayley?) for the kind words of both of you, both
in this letter and as my sister heard them. It is delightful to me
to find such grace in the eyes of dearest Mr. Kenyon's friends, and I
remain, dear Miss Thomson,
Truly yours, and gladly,
If there should be anything more at any time for me to do, I trust to
[Footnote 136: Afterwards Mdme. Emil Braun; see the letter of
January 9, 1850. At this time she was engaged in editing an album
or anthology, to which she had asked Miss Barrett to contribute some
_To Miss Thomson_
50 Wimpole Street: Monday .
My dear Miss Thomson,--Believe of me that it can only give me pleasure
when you are affectionate enough to treat me as a friend; and for
the rest, nobody need apologise for taking another into the
vineyards--least Miss Bayley and yourself to _me_. At the first
thought I felt sure that there must be a great deal about vines in
these Greeks of ours, and am surprised, I confess, in turning from one
to another, to find how few passages of length are quotable, and how
the images drop down into a line or two. Do you know the passage in
the seventh 'Odyssey' where there is a vineyard in different stages of
ripeness?--of which Pope has made the most, so I tore up what I
began to write, and leave you to him. It is in Alcinous' gardens, and
between the first and second hundred lines of the book. The one from
the 'Iliad,' open to Miss Bayley's objection, is yet too beautiful
and appropriate, I fancy, for you to throw over. Curious it is that
my first recollection went from that shield of Achilles to Hesiod's
'Shield of Hercules,' from which I send you a version--leaving out
of it what dear Miss Bayley would object to on a like ground with the
Some gathered grapes, with reap-hooks in their hands,
While others bore off from the gathering hands
Whole baskets-full of bunches, black and white,
From those great ridges heaped up into fight,
With vine-leaves and their curling tendrils. So
They bore the baskets ...
... Yes! and all were saying
Their jests, while each went staggering in a row
Beneath his grape-load to the piper's playing.
The grapes were purple-ripe. And here, in fine,
Men trod them out, and there they drained the wine.
In the 'Works and Days' Hesiod says again, what is not worth your
listening to, perhaps:
And when that Sinus and Orion come
To middle heaven, and when Aurora--she
O' the rosy fingers--looks inquiringly
Full on Arcturus, straightway gather home
The general vintage. And, I charge you, see
All, in the sun and open air, outlaid
Ten days and nights, and five days in the shade.
The sixth day, pour in vases the fine juice--
The gift of Bacchus, who gives joys for use.
Anacreon talks to the point so well that you must forgive him, I
think, for being Anacreontic, and take from his hands what is not
defiled. The translation you send me does not 'smell of Anacreon,' nor
please me. Where did you get it? Would this be at all fresher?
Grapes that wear a purple skin,
Men and maidens carry in,
Brimming baskets on their shoulders,
Which they topple one by one
Down the winepress. Men are holders
Of the place there, and alone
Tread the grapes out, crush them down,
Letting loose the soul of wine--
Praising Bacchus as divine,
With the loud songs called his own!
You are aware of the dresser of the vine in Homer's 'Hymn to Mercury'
translated so exquisitely by Shelley, and of a very beautiful single
figure in Theocritus besides. Neither probably would suit your
purpose. In the 'Pax' of Aristophanes there is an idle 'Chorus' who
talks of looking at the vines and watching the grapes ripen, and
eating them at last, but there is nothing of vineyard work in it, so I
dismiss the whole.
For 'Hector and Andromache,' would you like me to try to do it for
you? It would amuse me, and you should not be bound to do more with
what I send you than to throw it into the fire if it did not meet
your wishes precisely. The same observation applies, remember, to this
little sheet, which I have _kept_--delayed sending--just because I
wanted to let you have a trial of my strength on 'Andromache' in the
same envelope; but the truth is that it is not _begun_ yet, partly
through other occupation, and partly through the lassitude which the
cold wind of the last few days always brings down on me. Yesterday I
made an effort, and felt like a broken stick--not even a bent one!
So wait for a warm day (and what a season we have had! I have been
walking up and down stairs and pretending to be quite well), and I
will promise to do my best, and certainly an inferior hand may get
nearer to touch the great Greek lion's mane than Pope's did.
Will you give my love to dear Miss Bayley? She shall hear from me--and
_you_ shall, in a day or two. And do not mind Mr. Kenyon. He 'roars as
softly as a sucking dove;' nevertheless he is an intolerant monster,
as I half told him the other day.
Believe me, dear Miss Thomson,
_To Mr. Westwood_
50 Wimpole Street: May 22, 1845.
Did you persevere with 'Sordello'? I hope so. Be sure that we may all
learn (as poets) much and deeply from it, for the writer speaks true
oracles. When you have read it through, then read for relaxation
and recompense the last 'Bell and Pomegranate' by the same poet, his
'Colombo's Birthday,' which is exquisite. Only 'Pippa Passes' I lean
to, or kneel to, with the deepest reverence. Wordsworth has been in
town, and is gone. Tennyson is still here. He likes London, I hear,
and hates Cheltenham, where he resides with his family, and he smokes
pipe after pipe, and does not mean to write any more poems. Are we to
sing a requiem?
Believe me, faithfully yours,
ELIZABETH BARRETT BARRETT.
_To H.S. Boyd_
Saturday, July 21, 1845 [postmark].
My very dear Friend,--You are kind to exceeding kindness, and I am as
grateful as any of your long-ago kind invitations ever found me. It is
something pleasant, indeed, and like a return to life, to be asked by
you to spend two or three days in your house, and I thank you for this
pleasantness, and for the goodness, on your own part, which induced
it. You may be perfectly sure that no Claypon, though he should live
in Arcadia, would be preferred by me to _you_ as a host, and I wonder
how you could entertain the imagination of such a thing. Mr. Kenyon,
indeed, has asked me repeatedly to spend a few hours on a sofa in his
house, and, the Regent's Park being so much nearer than you are, I
had promised to think of it. But I have not yet found it possible to
accomplish even that quarter of a mile's preferment, and my ambition
is forced to be patient when I begin to think of St. John's Wood. I am
considerably stronger, and increasing in strength, and in time, with
a further advance of the summer, I may do 'such things--what they are
yet, I know not.' Yes, I _know_ that they relate to _you_, and that I
have a hope, as well as an earnest, affectionate desire, to sit face
to face with you once more before this summer closes. Do, in the
meantime, believe that I am very grateful to you for your kind,
considerate proposal, and that it is not made in vain for my wishes,
and that I am not likely willingly 'to spend two or three days' with
anybody in the world before I do so with yourself.
Mr. Hunter has not paid us his usual Saturday's visit, and therefore
I have no means of answering the questions you put in relation to him.
We will ask him about 'times and seasons' when next we see him, and
you shall hear.
Did you ever hear much of Robert Montgomery, commonly called Satan
Montgomery because the author of 'Satan,' of the 'Omnipresence of the
Deity,' and of various poems which pass through edition after
edition, nobody knows how or _why_? I understand that his pew (he is
a clergyman) is sown over with red rosebuds from ladies of the
congregation, and that the same fair hands have made and presented to
him, in the course of a single season, one hundred pairs of slippers.
Whereupon somebody said to this Reverend Satan, 'I never knew before,
Mr. Montgomery, that you were a _centipede_'
Dearest Mr. Boyd's affectionate and grateful
Through the summer of 1845, Miss Barrett, as usual, recovered
strength, but so slightly that her doctor urged that she should not
face the winter in England. Plans were accordingly made for her
going abroad, to which the following letters refer, but the scheme
ultimately broke down before the prohibition of Mr. Barrett--a
prohibition for which no valid reason was put forward, and which, to
say the least, bore the colour of unaccountable indifference to his
daughter's health and wishes. The matter is of some importance on
account of its bearing on the action taken by Miss Barrett in the
autumn of the following year.
_To Mrs. Martin_
Monday, July 29, 1845 [postmark].
My dearest Mrs. Martin,--I am ashamed not to have written before, and
yet have courage enough to ask you to write to me as soon as you
can. Day by day I have had good intentions enough (the fact is)
about writing, to seem to deserve some good deeds from you, which
is contrary to all wisdom and reason, I know, but is rather natural,
after all. What _my_ deeds have been, you will be apt to ask. Why, all
manner of idleness, which is the most interrupting, you know, of
all things. The Hedleys have been flitting backwards and forwards,
staying, some of them, for a month at a time in London, and then
going, and then coming again; and I have had other visitors, few but
engrossing 'after their kind.' And I have been _getting well_--which
is a process--going out into the carriage two or three times a week,
abdicating my sofa for my armchair, moving from one room to another
now and then, and walking about mine quite as well as, and with
considerably more complacency than, a child of two years old.
Altogether, I do think that if you were kind enough to be glad to see
me looking better when you were in London, you would be kind enough to
be still gladder if you saw me now. Everybody praises me, and I
look in the looking-glass with a better conscience. Also, it is an
improving improvement, and will be, until, you know, the last hem of
the garment of summer is lost sight of, and then--and then--I must
either follow to another climate, or be ill again--_that_ I know, and
am prepared for. It is but dreary work, this undoing of my Penelope
web in the winter, after the doing of it through the summer, and the
more progress one makes in one's web, the more dreary the prospect of
the undoing of all these fine silken stitches. But we shall see....
Ever your affectionate
_To Mrs. Martin_
Tuesday [October 1845].
My dearest Mrs. Martin,--Do believe that I have not been, as I have
seemed, perhaps, forgetful of you through this silence. This last
proof of your interest and affection for me--in your letter to
Henrietta--quite rouses me to _speak out_ my remembrance of you, and
I have been remembering you all the time that I did not speak, only I
was so perplexed and tossed up and down by doubts and sadnesses as
to require some shock from without to force the speech from me. Your
verses, in their grace of kindness, and the ivy from Wordsworth's
cottage, just made me think to myself that I would write to you before
I left England, but when you talk really of coming to see me, why, I
must speak! You overcome me with the sense of your goodness to me.
Yet, after all, I will not have you come! The farewells are bad enough
which come to us, without our going to seek them, and I would rather
wait and meet you on the Continent, or in England again, than see you
now, just to part from you. And you cannot guess how shaken I am, and
how I cling to every plank of a little calm. Perhaps I am going on the
17th or 20th. Certainly I have made up my mind to do it, and shall do
it as a bare matter of duty; and it is one of the most painful acts
of duty which my whole life has set before me. The road is as rough as
possible, as far as I can see it. At the same time, being absolutely
convinced from my own experience and perceptions, and the unhesitating
advice of two able medical men (Dr. Chambers, one of them), that to
escape the English winter will be _everything for me_, and that it
involves the comfort and usefulness of the rest of my life, I have
resolved to do it, let the circumstances of the doing be as painful
as they may. If you were to see me you would be astonished to see the
work of the past summer; but all these improvements will ebb away with
the sun--while I am assured of permanent good if I leave England. The
struggle with me has been a very painful one; I cannot enter on the
how and wherefore at this moment. I had expected more help than I have
found, and am left to myself, and thrown so on my own sense of duty as
to feel it right, for the sake of future years, to make an effort to
stand by myself as I best can. At the same time, I will not tell you
that at the last hour something may not happen to keep me at home.
_That_ is neither impossible nor improbable. If, for instance, I find
that I cannot have one of my brothers with me, why, the going in that
case would be out of the question. Under ordinary circumstances I
shall go, and if the experiment of going fails, why, then I shall have
had the satisfaction of having tried it, and of knowing that it is
God's will which keeps me a prisoner, and makes me a burden. As it is,
I have been told that if I had gone years ago I _should be well
now_; that one lung is very slightly affected, but the nervous system
_absolutely shattered_, as the state of the pulse proves. I am in the
habit of taking forty drops of laudanum a day, and _cannot do with
less_, that is, the medical man _told me_ that I could not do with
less, saying so with his hand on the pulse. The cold weather, they
say, acts on the lungs, and produces the weakness indirectly, whereas
the necessary shutting up acts on the _nerves_ and prevents them from
having a chance of recovering their tone. And thus, without any mortal
disease, or any disease of equivalent seriousness, I am thrown out of
life, out of the ordinary sphere of its enjoyment and activity, and
made a burden to myself and to others. Whereas there is a means of
escape from these evils, and God has opened the door of escape, as
wide as I see it!
In all ways, for my own _happiness's sake_ I do need _a proof_ that
the evil is irremediable. And this proof (or the counter-proof) I am
about to seek in Italy.
Dr. Chambers has advised _Pisa_, and I go in the direct steamer from
the Thames to Leghorn. I have good courage, and as far as my own
strength goes, sufficient means.
Dearest Mrs. Martin, more than I thought at first of telling you, I
have told you. Much beside there is, painful to talk of, but I hope
I have determined to do what is right, and that the determination
has not been formed ungently, unscrupulously, nor unaffectionately in
respect to the feelings of others. I would die for some of those, but
there, has been affection opposed to affection.
This in confidence, of course. May God bless both of you! Pray for me,
dearest Mrs. Martin. Make up your mind to go somewhere soon--shall you
not?--before the winter shuts the last window from which you see the
Dr. Chambers said that he would 'answer for it' that the voyage would
rather do me good than harm. Let me suffer sea sickness or not, he
said, he would answer for its doing me no harm.
I hope to take Arabel with me, and either Storm or Henry. This is my
Gratefully and affectionately I think of all your kindness and
interest. May dear Mr. Martin lose nothing in this coming winter! I
shall think of you, and not cease to love you. Moreover, you shall
hear again from
Your ever affectionate
_To H.S. Boyd_
October 27, 1845 [postmark].
My very dear Friend,--It is so long since I wrote that I must write, I
must ruffle your thoughts with a little breath from my side. Listen
to me, my dear friend. That I have not written has scarcely been my
fault, but my misfortune rather, for I have been quite unstrung and
overcome by agitation and anxiety, and thought that I should be able
to tell you at last of being calmer and happier, but it was all in
vain. I do not leave England, my dear friend. It is decided that I
remain on in my prison. It was my full intention to go. I considered
it to be a clear duty, and I made up my mind to perform it, let the
circumstances be ever so painfully like obstacles; but when the
moment came it appeared impossible for me to set out alone, and also
impossible to take my brother and sister with me without involving
them in difficulties and displeasure. Now what I could risk for myself
I could not risk for others, and the very kindness with which they
desired me not to think of them only made me think of them more, as
was natural and just. So Italy is given up, and I fall back into the
hands of God, who is merciful, trusting Him with the time that shall
Arabel would have gone to tell you all this a fortnight since, but one
of my brothers has been ill with fever which was not exactly typhus,
but of the typhoid character, and we knew that you would rather
not see her under the circumstances. He is very much better (it is
Octavius), and has been out of bed to-day and yesterday.
Do not reproach me either for not writing or for not going, my very
dear friend. I have been too heavy-hearted for words; and as to the
deeds, you would not have wished me to lead others into difficulties,
the extent and result of which no one could calculate. It would not
have been just of me.
And _you_, how are you, and what are you doing?
May God bless you, my dear dear friend!
Ever yours I am, affectionately and gratefully,
_To Mr. Chorley_
50 Wimpole Street: November 1845.
I must trouble you with another letter of thanks, dear Mr. Chorley,
now that I have to thank you for the value of the work as well as
the kindness of the gift, for I have read your three volumes of
'Pomfret' with interest and moral assent, and with great pleasure
in various ways: it is a pure, true book without effort, which, in
these days of gesture and rolling of the eyes, is an uncommon thing.
Also you make your 'private judgment' work itself out quietly as a
simple part of the love of truth, instead of being the loud heroic
virtue it is so apt in real life to profess itself, seldom moving
without drums and trumpets and the flying of party colours. All these
you have put down rightly, wisely, and boldly, and it was, in my mind,
no less wise than bold of you to let in that odour of Tyrrwhitism into
the folds of the purple, and so prevent the very possibility of any
'prestige.' If I complained it might be that your 'private judgment'
confines its reference to 'public opinion,' and shuns, too proudly
perhaps, the higher and deeper relations of human responsibility. But
there are difficulties, I see, and you choose your path advisedly, of
course. The best character in the book I take to be _Rose_; I
cannot hesitate in selecting him. He is so lifelike with the world's
conventional life that you hear his footsteps when he walks, and,
indeed, I think his boots were apt to creak just the _soupcon_ of
a creak, just as a gentleman's boots might, and he is excellently
consistent, even down to the choice of a wife whom he could patronise.
I hope you like your own Mr. Rose, and that you will forgive me for
jilting Grace for Helena, which I could not help any more than Walter
could. But now, may I venture to ask a question? Would it not have
been wise of you if, on the point of _reserve_, you had thrown a
deeper shade of opposition into the characters or rather manners of
these women? Helena sits like a statue (and could Grace have done
more?) when she wins Walter's heart in Italy. Afterwards, and by fits
at the time, indeed, the artist fire bursts from her, but there was a
great deal of smouldering when there should have been a clear heat to
justify Walter's change of feeling. And then, in respect to _that_,
do you really think that your Grace was generous, heroic (with the
evidence she had of the change) in giving up her engagement? For her
own sake, could she have done otherwise? I fancy not; the position
seems surrounded by its own necessities, and no room for a doubt.
I write on my own doubts, you see, and you will smile at them, or
understand all through them that if the book had not interested me
like a piece of real life, I should not find myself _backbiting_ as if
all these were 'my neighbours.' The pure tender feeling of the closing
scenes touched me to better purpose, believe me, and I applaud from
my heart and conscience your rejection of that low creed of 'poetical
justice' which is neither justice nor poetry which is as degrading
to virtue as false to experience, and which, thrown from your book,
raises it into a pure atmosphere at once.
I could go on talking, but remind myself (I do hope in time) that I
might show my gratitude better. With sincere wishes for the success
of the work (for just see how practically we come to trust to poetical
justices after all our theories--_I_, I mean, and _mine_!), and with
respect and esteem for the writer,
I remain very truly yours,
ELIZABETH BARRETT BARRETT.
[Footnote 137: A novel by Mr. Chorley, a copy of which he had
presented to Miss Barrett.]
_To Mrs. Jameson_
50 Wimpole Street: December 1, 1845.
My dear Mrs. Jameson,--I receive your letter, as I must do every sign
of your being near and inclined to think of me in kindness, gladly,
and assure you at once that whenever you can spend a half-hour on me
you will find me enough myself to have a true pleasure in welcoming
you, say any day except next Saturday or the Monday immediately
As soon as I heard of your return to England I ventured to hope that
some good might come of it to me in my room here, besides the general
good, which I look for with the rest of the public, when the censer
swings back into the midst of us again. And how good of you, dear Mrs.
Jameson, to think of me there where the perfumes were set burning; it
makes me glad and grand that you should have been able to do so. Also
the kind wishes which came with the thoughts (you say) were not in
vain, for I have been very idle and very _well_; the angel of the
summer has done more for me even than usual, and till the last wave of
his wing I took myself to be quite well and at liberty, and even now
I am as well as anyone can be who has heard the prison door shut for a
whole winter at least, and knows it to be the only English alternative
of a grave. Which is a gloomy way of saying that I am well but forced
to shut myself up with disagreeable precautions all round, and I ought
to be gratified instead of gloomy. Believe me that I _shall_ be so
when you come to see me, remaining in the meanwhile
Most truly yours,
_To Mrs. Martin_
Friday [about December 1845].
I am the guilty person, dearest Mrs. Martin! You would have heard from
Henrietta at least yesterday, only I persisted in promising to write
instead of her; and so, if there are reproaches, let them fall. Not
that I am audacious and without shame! But I have grown familiar with
an evil conscience as to these matters of not writing when I ought;
and long ago I grew familiar with your mercy and power of pardoning;