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[Illustration: Elizabeth Barrett Browning]
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING
EDITED WITH BIOGRAPHICAL ADDITIONS by FREDERIC G. KENYON
IN TWO VOLUMES
The writer of any narrative of Mrs. Browning’s life, or the editor of a collection of her letters, is met at the outset of his task by the knowledge that both Mrs. Browning herself and her husband more than, once expressed their strong dislike of any such publicity in regard to matters of a personal and private character affecting themselves. The fact that expressions to this effect are publicly extant is one which has to be faced or evaded; but if it could not be fairly faced, and the apparent difficulty removed, the present volumes would never have seen the light. It would be a poor qualification for the task of preparing a record of Mrs. Browning’s life, to be willing therein to do violence to her own expressed wishes and those of her husband. But the expressions to which reference has been made are limited, either formally or by implication, to publications made during their own lifetime. They shrank, as any sensitive person must shrink, from seeing their private lives, their personal characteristics, above all, their sorrows and bereavements, offered to the inspection and criticism of the general public; and it was to such publications that their protests referred. They could not but be aware that the details of their lives would be of interest to the public which read and admired their works, and there is evidence that they recognised that the public has some claims with regard to writers who have appealed to, and partly lived by, its favour. They only claimed that during their own lifetime their feelings should be consulted first; when they should have passed away, the rights of the public would begin.
It is in this spirit that the following collection of Mrs. Browning’s letters has now been prepared, in the conviction that the lovers of English literature will be glad to make a closer and more intimate acquaintance with one–or, it may truthfully be said, with two–of the most interesting literary characters of the Victorian age. It is a selection from a large mass of letters, written at all periods in Mrs. Browning’s life, which Mr. Browning, after his wife’s death, reclaimed from the friends to whom they had been written, or from their representatives. No doubt, Mr. Browning’s primary object was to prevent publications which would have been excessively distressing to his feelings; but the letters, when once thus collected, were not destroyed (as was the case with many of his own letters), but carefully preserved, and so passed into the possession of his son, Mr. R. Barrett Browning, with whose consent they are now published. In this collection are comprised the letters to Miss Browning (the poet’s sister, whose consent has also been freely given to the publication), Mr. H.S. Boyd, Mrs. Martin, Miss Mitford, Mrs. Jameson, Mr. John Kenyon, Mr. Chorley, Miss Blagden, Miss Haworth, and Miss Thomson (Madame Emil Braun). To these have been added a number of letters which have been kindly lent by their possessors for the purpose of the present volumes.
[Footnote 1: Mrs. Sutherland-Orr had access to these letters for her biography of Robert Browning, and quotes several passages from them. With this exception, none of the letters have been published previously; and the published letters of Miss Barrett to Mr. R.H. Horne have not been drawn upon, except for biographical information.]
The duties of the editor have been mainly those of selection and arrangement. With regard to the former task one word is necessary. It may be thought that the almost entire absence of bitterness (except on certain political topics), of controversy, of personal ill feeling of any kind, is due to editorial excisions. This is not the case. The number of passages that have been removed for fear of hurting the feelings of persons still living is almost infinitesimal; and in these the cause of offence is always something inherent in the facts recorded, not in the spirit in which they are mentioned. No person had less animosity than Mrs. Browning; it seems as though she could hardly bring herself to speak harshly of anyone. The omissions that have been made are almost wholly of passages containing little or nothing of interest, or repetitions of what has been said elsewhere; and they have been made with the object of diminishing the bulk and concentrating the interest of the collection, never with the purpose of modifying the representation of the writer’s character.
The task of arranging the letters has been more arduous owing to Mrs. Browning’s unfortunate habit of prefixing no date’s, or incomplete ones, to her letters. Many of them are dated merely by the day of the week or month, and can only be assigned to their proper place in the series on internal evidence. In some cases, however, the envelopes have been preserved, and the date is then often provided by the postmarks. These supply fixed points by which the others can be tested; and ultimately all have fallen into line in chronological order, and with at least approximate dates to each letter.
The correspondence, thus arranged in chronological order, forms an almost continuous record of Mrs. Browning’s life, from the early days in Herefordshire to her death in Italy in 1861; but in order to complete the record, it has been thought well to add connecting links of narrative, which should serve to bind the whole together into the unity of a biography. It is a chronicle, rather than a biography in the artistic sense of the term; a chronicle of the events of a life in which there were but few external events of importance, and in which the subject of the picture is, for the most part, left to paint her own portrait, and that, moreover, unconsciously. Still, this is a method which may be held to have its advantages, in that it can hardly be affected by the feelings or prejudices of the biographer; and if it does not present a finished portrait to the reader, it provides him with the materials from which he can form a portrait for himself. The external events are placed upon record, either in the letters or in the connecting links of narrative; the character and opinions of Mrs. Browning reveal themselves in her correspondence; and her genius is enshrined in her poetry. And these three elements make up all that may be known of her personality, all with which a biographer has to deal.
It is essentially her character, not her genius, that is presented to the reader of these letters. There are some letter-writers whose genius is so closely allied with their daily life that it shines through into their familiar correspondence with their friends, and their letters become literature. Such, in their very different ways, with very different types of genius and very different habits of daily life, are Gray, Cowper, Lamb, perhaps Fitzgerald. But letter-writers such as these are few. More often the correspondence of men and women of letters is valuable for the light it throws upon the character and opinions of those whose character and opinions we are led to regard with admiration or respect, or at least interest, on account of their other writings. In these cases it may be held that the publication is justifiable or not, according as the character which it reveals is affected favourably or the reverse. Not all truth, even about famous men, is useful for publication, but only such as enables us to appreciate better the works which have made them famous. Their highest selves are expressed in their literary work; and it is a poor service to truth to insist on bringing to light the fact that they also had lower selves–common, dull, it may be vicious. What illustrates their genius and enhances our respect for their character, may rightly be made known; but what shakes our belief and mars our enjoyment in them, is simply better left in obscurity.
With regard to Mrs. Browning, however, there is no room for doubt upon these points. These letters, familiarly written to her private friends, without the smallest idea of publication, treating of the thoughts that came uppermost in the ordinary language of conversation, can lay no claim to make a new revelation of her genius. On the other hand, perhaps because the circumstances of Mrs. Browning’s life cut her off to an unusual extent from personal intercourse with her friends, and threw her back upon letter-writing as her principal means of communication with them, they contain an unusually full revelation of her character. And this is not wholly unconnected with her literary genius, since her personal convictions, her moral character, entered more fully than is often the case into the composition of her poetry. Her best poetry is that which is most full of her personal emotions. The ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese,’ the ‘Cry of the Children,’ ‘Cowper’s Grave,’ the ‘Dead Pan,’ ‘Aurora Leigh,’ and all the Italian poems, owe their value to the pure and earnest character, the strong love of truth and right, the enthusiasm on behalf of what is oppressed and the indignation against all kinds of oppression and wrong, which were prominent elements in a personality of exceptional worth and beauty.
An editor can generally serve his readers best by remaining in the background; but he is allowed one moment for the expression of his personal feelings, when he thanks those who have assisted him in his work. In the present case there are many to whom it is a pleasure to offer such thanks. In the first place, I have to thank Mr. R. Barrett Browning and Miss Browning most cordially for having accepted the proposal of the publishers (Messrs. Smith, Elder & Co., to whom likewise my gratitude is due) to put so pleasant and congenial a task into my hands. Mr. Browning has also contributed a number of suggestions and corrections while the sheets have been passing through the press. I have also to thank those who have been kind enough to offer letters in their possession for inclusion in these volumes: Lady Alwyne Compton for the letters to Mr. Westwood; Mrs. Arthur Severn for the letters to Mr. Ruskin; Mr. G.L. Craik for the letters to Miss Mulock; Mrs. Commeline for the letters to Miss Commeline; Mr. T.J. Wise for the letters to Mr. Cornelius Mathews; Mr. C. Aldrich for the letter to Mrs. Kinney; Col. T.W. Higginson for a letter to Miss Channing; and the Rev. G. Bainton for a letter to Mr. Kenyon. It has not been possible to print all the letters which have been thus offered; but this does not diminish the kindness of the lenders, nor the gratitude of the editor.
Finally, I should wish to offer my sincere thanks to Lady Edmond Fitzmaurice for much assistance and advice in the selection and revision of the letters; a labour which her friendship with Mr. Browning towards the close of his life has prompted her to bestow most freely and fully upon this memorial of his wife.
CONTENTS OF THE FIRST VOLUME
Birth–Hope End–Early Poems–Sidmouth–‘Prometheus’
London–Magazine Poems–‘The Seraphim and other Poems’–Torquay–Death of Edward Barrett–Return to London
Wimpole Street–‘The Greek Christian Poets’–‘The English Poets’–‘The New Spirit of the Age’–Miscellaneous Letters
The ‘Poems’ of 1844–Miss Martineau and Mesmerism–Pro-posed Journey to Italy
Friendship with Robert Browning–Love and Marriage–Paris and Pisa–Florence–Vallombrosa–Casa Guidi–Italian Politics in 1848
Birth of a Son–Death of Mrs. Browning, senior–Bagni di Lucca–New Edition of Poems–Siena–Florentine Life
PORTRAIT OF ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING. _Frontispiece_ CASA GUIDI
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING
Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, still better known to the world as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, was born on March 6, 1806, the eldest child of Edward and Mary Moulton Barrett. I Both the date and place of her birth have been matters of uncertainty and dispute, and even so trustworthy an authority as the ‘Dictionary of National Biography’ is inaccurate with respect to them. All doubt has, however, been set at rest by the discovery of the entry of her birth in the parish register of Kelloe Church, in the county of Durham. She was born at Coxhoe Hall, the residence of Mr. Barrett’s only brother, Samuel, about five miles south of the city of Durham. Her father, whose name was originally Edward Barrett Moulton, had assumed the additional surname of Barrett on the death of his maternal grandfather, to whose estates in Jamaica he was the heir. Of Mr. Barrett it is recorded by Mr. Browning, in the notes prefixed by him to the collected edition of his wife’s poems, that ‘on the early death of his father he was brought from Jamaica to England when a very young child, as a ward of the late Chief Baron Lord Abinger, then Mr. Scarlett, whom he frequently accompanied in his post-chaise when on circuit. He was sent to Harrow, but received there so savage a punishment for a supposed offence (burning the toast)’–which, indeed, has been a ‘supposed offence’ at other schools than Harrow–‘by the youth whose fag he had become, that he was withdrawn from the school by his mother, and the delinquent was expelled. At the age of sixteen he was sent by Mr. Scarlett to Cambridge, and thence, for an early marriage, went to Northumberland.’ His wife was Miss Mary Graham-Clarke, daughter of J. Graham-Clarke, of Fenham Hall, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but of her nothing seems to be known, and her comparatively early death causes her to be little heard of in the record of her daughter’s life.
[Footnote 2: See _Notes and Queries_ for July 20, 1889, supplemented by a note from Mr. Browning himself in the same paper on August 24.]
Nothing is to be gained by trying to trace back the genealogy of the Barrett family, and it need merely be noted that it had been connected for some generations with the island of Jamaica, and owned considerable estates there. It is a curious coincidence that Robert Browning was likewise in part of West Indian descent, and so, too, was John Kenyon, the lifelong friend of both, by whose means the poet and poetess were first introduced to one another.
[Footnote 3: These estates still remain in the family, and Mr. Charles Barrett, the eldest surviving brother of Mrs. Browning, now lives there.]
The family of Mr. Edward Barrett was a fairly large one, consisting, besides Elizabeth, of two daughters, Henrietta and Arabel, and eight sons–Edward, whose tragic death at Torquay saddened so much of his sister’s life, Charles (the ‘Stormie’ of the letters), Samuel, George, Henry, Alfred, Septimus, and Octavius; Mr. Barrett’s inventiveness having apparently given out with the last two members of his family, reducing him to the primitive method of simple enumeration, an enumeration in which, it may be observed, the daughters counted for nothing. Not many of these, however, can have been born at Coxhoe; for while Elizabeth was still an infant–apparently about the beginning of the year 1809–Mr. Barrett removed to his newly purchased estate of Hope End, in Herefordshire, among the Malvern hills, and only a few miles from Malvern itself. It is to Hope End that the admirers of Mrs. Browning must look as the real home of her childhood and youth. Here she spent her first twenty years of conscious life. Here is the scene of the childish reminiscences which are to be found among her earlier poems, of ‘Hector in the Garden,’ ‘The Lost Bower,’ and ‘The Deserted Garden.’ And here too her earliest verses were written, and the foundations laid of that omnivorous reading of literature of all sorts and kinds, which was so strong a characteristic of her tastes and leanings.
On this subject she may be left to tell her own tale. In a letter written on October 5, 1843, to Mr. R.H. Horne, she furnishes him with the following biographical details for his study of her in ‘The New Spirit of the Age.’ They supply us with nearly all that we know of her early life and writings.
‘And then as to stories, my story amounts to the knife-grinder’s, with nothing at all for a catastrophe. A bird in a cage would have as good a story, Most of my events, and nearly all my intense pleasures, have passed in my _thoughts_. I wrote verses–as I dare say many have done who never wrote any poems–very early; at eight years old and earlier. But, what is less common, the early fancy turned into a will, and remained with me, and from that day to this, poetry has been a distinct object with me–an object to read, think, and live for. And I could make you laugh, although you could not make the public laugh, by the narrative of nascent odes, epics, and didactics crying aloud on obsolete muses from childish lips. The Greeks were my demi-gods, and haunted me out of Pope’s Homer, until I dreamt more of Agamemnon than of Moses the black pony. And thus my great “epic” of eleven or twelve years old, in four books, and called “The Battle of Marathon,” and of which fifty copies were printed because papa was bent upon spoiling me–is Pope’s Homer done over again, or rather undone; for, although a curious production for a child, it gives evidence only of an imitative faculty and an ear, and a good deal of reading in a peculiar direction. The love of Pope’s Homer threw me into Pope on one side and into Greek on the other, and into Latin as a help to Greek–and the influence of all these tendencies is manifest so long afterwards as in my “Essay on Mind,” a didactic poem written when I was seventeen or eighteen, and long repented of as worthy of all repentance. The poem is imitative in its form, yet is not without traces of an individual thinking and feeling–the bird pecks through the shell in it. With this it has a pertness and pedantry which did not even then belong to the character of the author, and which I regret now more than I do the literary defectiveness.
‘All this time, and indeed the greater part of my life, we lived at Hope End, a few miles from Malvern, in a retirement scarcely broken to me except by books and my own thoughts, and it is a beautiful country, and was a retirement happy in many ways, although the very peace of it troubles the heart as it looks back. There I had my fits of Pope, and Byron, and Coleridge, and read Greek as hard under the trees as some of your Oxonians in the Bodleian; gathered visions from Plato and the dramatists, and eat and drank Greek and made my head ache with it. Do you know the Malvern Hills? The hills of Piers Plowman’s Visions? They seem to me my native hills; for, although I was born in the county of Durham, I was an infant when I went first into their neighbourhood, and lived there until I had passed twenty by several years. Beautiful, beautiful hills they are! And yet, not for the whole world’s beauty would I stand in the sunshine and the shadow of them any more. It would be a mockery, like the taking back of a broken flower to its stalk.'
[Footnote 4: R.H. Horne, _Letters of E.B. Browning_, i. 158-161.]
So, while the young Robert Browning was enthusiastically declaiming passages of Pope’s Homer, and measuring out heroic couplets with his hand round the dining table in Camberwell, Elizabeth Barrett was drinking from the same fount of inspiration among the Malvern Hills, and was already turning it to account in the production of her first epic. The fifty copies of the ‘Battle of Marathon,’ which Mr. Barrett, proud of his daughter’s precocity, insisted on having printed, bear the date of 1819. Only five of them are now known to exist, and these are all in private hands; even the British Museum possesses only the reprint which the hero-worship of the present generation caused to be produced in 1891. Seven years later, when she had just reached the age of twenty, her first volume of verse was offered to the world in general. It was entitled ‘An Essay on Mind, and other Poems,’ and included, besides the didactic poem after the manner of Pope which formed the _piece de resistance_, a number of shorter pieces, several of which, as she informed Horne, had been written when she was not more than thirteen.
[Footnote 5: R.H. Horne, _Letters of E.B. Browning_, i. 164.]
It was during the years at Hope End that Elizabeth Barrett was first attacked by serious illness. ‘At fifteen,’ she says in her autobiographical letter, already quoted in part, ‘I nearly died;’ and this may be connected with a statement by Mrs. Richmond Ritchie, to the effect that ‘one day, when Elizabeth was about fifteen, the young girl, impatient for her ride, tried to saddle her pony alone, in a field, and fell with the saddle upon her, in some way injuring her spine so seriously that she was for years upon her back.' The latter part of this statement cannot indeed be quite accurate; for her period of long confinement to a sick-room was of later date, and began, according to her own statement, from a different cause. Mr. R. Barrett Browning states that the injury to the spine was not discovered for some time, but was afterwards attributed, not to a fall, but to a strain whilst tightening her pony’s girths. No doubt this injury contributed towards the general weakness of health to which she was always subject.
[Footnote 6: _Dict. of Nat. Biography_, vii. 78.]
Of her earliest letters, belonging to the Hope End period, very few have been preserved, and most of those which remain are of little interest. The first to be printed here belongs to the period of her mother’s last illness, which ended in her death on October 1, 1828. It is addressed to Mrs. James Martin, a lifelong friend, whose name will appear frequently in these pages. At the time when it was written she was living near Tewkesbury, within visiting distance of the Barretts.
_To Mrs. Martin_
Hope End: Thursday, [about September 1828].
My dear Mrs. Martin,–I am happy to be able to tell you that Mr. Garden was here two days ago, and that he has not thought it necessary to adopt any violent measure with regard to our beloved invalid. He seems entirely to rely, for her ultimate restoration, upon a discipline as to diet, and a course of strengthening medicine. This is most satisfactory to us; and her spirits have been soothed and tranquillised by his visit. She has slept quietly for the last few nights, and reports herself to be _brisker_ and stronger, and to be comparatively free from pain. This account is, perhaps, too favorable, and will appear so to you when you see her, as I am afraid you will, not looking much better, _much_ more cheerful, than when you paid us your last visit. But when we are very _willing_ to hope, we are apt to be too _ready_ to hope: though really, without being _too_ sanguine, we may consider quiet nights and diminished pain to be satisfactory signs of amendment. I know you will be glad to hear of them, and I hope you will _witness_ them very soon, in spite of this repulsive snow. It will do mama good, and I am sure it will give us all pleasure, to benefit by some of your charitable pilgrimages over the hill.
With our best regards, and sincerest thanks for your kind interest
Believe me, dear Mrs. Martin, most truly yours,
[Footnote 7: Mrs. Browning usually spells such words as ‘favour,’ ‘honour,’ and the like, without the _u_, after the fashion which one is accustomed to regard as American.]
_To Miss Commeline_
Hope End: Monday, [October 1828].
My dear Miss Commeline,–Thank you for the sympathy and interest which you have extended towards us in our heavy affliction. Even _you_ cannot know _all_ that we have lost; but God knows, and it has pleased Him to take away the blessing that He gave. And all _must_ be right since He doeth all! Indeed we did not foresee this great grief! If we had we could not have felt it less; but I should not then have been denied the consolation of being with her at the last.
It is idle to speak now of such thoughts, and circumstances have unquestionably been rightly and mercifully ordered. We are all well and composed–poor papa supporting us by his own surpassing fortitude. It is an inexpressible comfort to me to witness his calmness.
I cannot say that we shall not be glad to see you, but the weather is dreary and the distance long: and if you were to come, we might not be able to meet you and to speak to you with calmness. In that case you would receive a melancholy impression which I should like to spare you. Perhaps it would be better for you and less selfish in us, if we were to defer this meeting a little while longer–but do what you prefer doing! I can never forget the regard and esteem entertained for you by one whose tenderness and watchfulness I have felt every day and hour since she gave me that life which her loss embitters–whose memory is more precious to me than any earthly blessing left behind; I have written what is ungrateful, and what I ought not to have written, and what I ought not to feel, and do not always feel, but I did not just then remember that I had so much left to love.
_To Mrs. Boyd_
Hope End: Saturday morning, [1828-1832].
My dear Mrs. Boyd,–You were quite wrong in supposing that papa was likely to complain about ‘the number of letters from Malvern;’ and as to my doing so, why did you suggest that? To fill up a sentence, or to conjure up some kind of limping excuse for idle people? Among idle people, perhaps you have written _me_ down. But the reason of my silence was far more reasonable than yours. I have been engaged in alternately wishing in earnest and wishing in vain for the power of saying when I could go to Malvern–and in being unwell besides. For the last week I have not been at all well, and indeed was obliged yesterday to go to bed after breakfast instead of after tea, where I contrived to abstract myself out of a good deal of pain into Lord Byron’s Life by Moore. To-day this abstraction is not necessary; I am much better; and, indeed, little remains of the indisposition but the _vulgar fractions_ of a cough and cold. I dare say (and Occyta agrees with me) cold was at the bottom of it all, for I was so very wise as to lie down upon the grass last Monday, when the sun was shining deceitfully, though the snow was staring at me from the hedges, with an expression anything but dog-daysical!
Henrietta’s face-ache is quite well, and I don’t mean to give any more bulletins to-day. I hope your ‘tolerably well’ is turned into ‘quite well’ too by this time.
In reply to your query, I will mention that _the existence_ actually extended until Thursday without the visit here–a phenomenon in physics and metaphysics. I was desired by a note a short time previously, ‘to embrace all my circle with the utmost tenderness,’ _as proxy_. Considering the extent of the said circle, this was a very comprehensive request, and a very unreasonable one to offer to anyone less than the hundred-armed Indian god Baly. I am glad that your alternative of a house is so near to the right side of the turnpike–in which case, a _miss_ is certainly not as _bad_ as a _mile_. May Place is to be vacated in May, though its present inhabitants do not leave Malvern. I mention this to you, but pray don’t _re-mention_ it to anybody. The rent is 15L. Mr. Boyd will not be angry with me for not going to see him sooner than I can. At least, I am sure he ought not. Though you are all kind enough to wish me to go, I always think and know (which is consolatory to everything but my vanity) that no one can wish it half as much as I myself do.
Believe me, dear Mrs. Boyd, affectionately yours,
[Footnote 8: Octavius, her youngest brother.]
[Footnote 9: Hugh Stuart Boyd, the blind scholar whose friendship with Elizabeth Barrett is commemorated in her poem, ‘Wine of Cyprus,’ and in three sonnets expressly addressed to him. He was at this time living at Great Malvern, where Miss Barrett frequently visited him, reading and discussing Greek literature with him, especially the works of the Greek Christian Fathers. But to call him her tutor, as has more than once been done, is a mistake: see Miss Barrett’s letter to; him of March 3, 1845. Her knowledge of Greek was due to her volunteering to share her brother Edward’s work under his tutor, Mr. MacSwiney.]
The fear 1832 brought a great change in the fortunes of the Barrett family, and may be said to mark the end of the purely formative period in Elizabeth Barrett’s life. Hitherto she had been living in the home and among the surroundings of her childhood, absorbing literature rather than producing it; or if producing it, still mainly for her own amusement and instruction, rather than with any view of appealing to the general public. But in 1832 this home was broken up by the sale, of Hope End, and with the removal thence we seem to find her embarking definitely on literature as the avowed pursuit and occupation of her life. Sidmouth in Devonshire was the place to which the Barrett family now removed, and the letters begin henceforth to be longer and more frequent, and to tell a more connected tale.
[Footnote 10: Mr. Ingram, in his _Life of E.B. Browning_ (‘Eminent Women’ Series) connects this fact with the abolition of colonial slavery, and a consequent decrease in Mr. Barrett’s income; but since the abolition only took place in 1833, while Hope End was given up in the preceding year, this conclusion does not appear to be certain.]
_To Mrs. Martin_
[Sidmouth: September 1832.]
How can I thank you enough, dearest Mrs. Martin, for your letter? How kind of you to write so soon and so very kindly! The postmark and handwriting were in themselves pleasant sights to me, and the kindness yet more welcome. Believe that I am grateful to you for _all_ your kindness–for your kindness now, and your kindness in the days which are past. Some of those past days were very happy, and some of them very sorrowful–more sorrowful than even our last days at dear, dear Hope End. _Then_, I well recollect, though I could not then thank you as I ought, how you _felt for_ us and _with_ us. Do not think I can ever forget _that time_, or _you_. I had written a note to you, which the bearer of Bummy’s and Arabel’s to Colwall omitted to take. Afterwards I thought it best to spare you any more farewells, which are upon human lips, of all words, the most natural, and of all the most painful.
They told us of our having past your carriage in Ledbury. Dear Mrs. Martin, I cannot dwell upon the pain of that first hour of our journey; but you will know what it must have been. The dread of it, for some hours before, was almost worse; but it is all over now, blessed be God. Before the first day’s journey was at end, we felt inexpressibly relieved–relieved from the restlessness and anxiety which have so long oppressed us–and now we are calmer and happier than we have been for very long. If we could only have papa and Bro and Sette with us! About half an hour before we set off, papa found out that he _could not_ part with Sette, who sleeps with him, and is always an amusing companion to him. Papa was, however, unwilling to separate him perforce from his little playfellows, and asked him whether he wished very much to go. Sette’s heart was quite full, but he answered immediately, ‘Oh, no, papa, I would _much_ rather stay with _you_.’ He is a dear affectionate little thing. He and Bro being with poor Papa, we are far more comfortable about him than we should otherwise be–and perhaps our going was his sharpest pang. I hope it was, as it is over. Do not think, dear Mrs. Martin, that you or Mr. Martin can ever ‘intrude’–you know you use that word in your letter. I have often been afraid, on account of papa not having been for so long a time at Colwall, lest you should fancy that he did not value your society and your kindness. Do not fancy it. Painful circumstances produce–as we have often had occasion to observe–different effects upon different minds; and some feeling, with which I certainly have no sympathy has made papa shrink from society of any kind lately. He would not even attend the religious societies in Ledbury, which he was so much pledged to support, and so interested in supporting. If you knew how much he has talked of you, and asked every particular about you, you could not fancy that his regard for you was estranged. He has an extraordinary degree of strength of mind on most points–and strong feeling, when it is not allowed to run in the natural channel, will sometimes force its way where it is not expected. You will think it strange; but never up to this moment has he even alluded to the subject, before _us_–never, at the moment of parting with us. And yet, though he had not power to say _one word_, he could play at cricket with the boys on the very last evening.
We slept at the York House in Bath. Bath is a beautiful town _as a town_, and the country harmonises well with it, without being a beautiful country. As _mere country_, nobody would stand still to look at it; though as town country, many bodies would. Somersetshire in general seems to be hideous, and I could fancy from the walls which intersect it in every direction, that they had been turned to stone by looking at the _Gorgonic_ scenery. The part of Devonshire through which our journey lay is nothing _very_ pretty, though it must be allowed to be beautiful after Somersetshire. We arrived here almost in the dark, and were besieged by the crowd of disinterested tradespeople, who _would_ attend us through the town to our house, to help to unload the carriages. This was not a particularly agreeable reception in spite of its cordiality; and the circumstance of there being not a human being in our house, and not even a rushlight burning, did not reassure us. People were tired of expecting us every day for three weeks. Nearly the whole way from Honiton to this place is a descent. Poor dear Bummy said she thought we were going into the _bowels of the earth_, but suspect she thought we were going much deeper. Between you and me, she does not seem _delighted_ with Sidmouth; but her spirits are a great deal better, and in time she will, I dare say, be better pleased. _We_ like very much what we have seen of it. The town is small and not superfluously clean, but, of course, the respectable houses are not a part of the town. Ours is one which the Grand Duchess Helena had, not at all _grand_, but extremely comfortable and cheerful, with a splendid sea view in front, and pleasant green, hills and trees behind. The drawing-room’s four windows all look to the sea, and I am never tired of looking out of them. I was doing so, with a most hypocritical book before me, when your letter arrived, and I _felt_ all that you said in it. I always thought that the sea was the sublimest object in nature. Mont Blanc–Niagara must be nothing to it. _There_, the Almighty’s form glasses itself in tempests–and not only in tempests, but in calm–in space, in eternal motion, in eternal regularity. How can we look at it, and consider our puny sorrows, and not say, ‘We are dumb–because _Thou_ didst it’? Indeed, dear Mrs. Martin, we must feel every hour, and we shall feel every year, that what He did is _well done_–and not only well, but mercifully.
Mr. and Mrs. H—-, with whom papa is slightly acquainted, have called upon us, and shown us many kind attentions. They are West India people, not very polished, but certainly _very_ good-natured. We hear that the place is extremely full and gay; but this is, of course, only an _on dit_ to us at present. I have been riding a donkey two or three times, and enjoy very much going to the edge of the sea. The air has made me sleep more soundly than I have done for some time, and I dare say it will do me a great deal of good in every way.
You may suppose what a southern climate this is, when I tell you that myrtles and verbena, three or four feet high, and hydrangeas are in flower in the gardens–even in ours, which is about a hundred and fifty yards from the sea. I have written to the end of my paper. Give our kindest regards to Mr. Martin, and ever believe me,
Your affectionate and grateful
[Footnote 11: The Martins’ home near Malvern, about a mile from Hope End.]
[Footnote 12: Her brothers Edward and Septimus.]
_To Mrs. Martin_
[Sidmouth:] Wednesday, September 27, 1832 [postmark].
How very kind of you, dearest Mrs. Martin, to write to me so much at length and at such a time. Indeed, it was exactly the time when, if we were where we have been, we should have wished you to walk over the hill and talk to us; and although, after all that the most zealous friends of letter writing can say for it, it is _not_ such a happy thing as talking with those you care for, yet it is the next happiest thing. I am sure I thought so when I read your letter …
And now I must tell you about ourselves. Papa and Bro and Sette have made us so much happier by coming, and we have the comfort of seeing dear papa in good spirits, and not only satisfied but pleased with this place. It is scarcely possible, at least it seems so to me, to do otherwise than admire the beauty of the country. It is the very land of green lanes and pretty thatched cottages. I don’t mean the kind of cottages which are generally thatched, with pigstyes and cabbages and dirty children, but thatched cottages with verandas and shrubberies, and sounds from the harp or piano coming through the windows. When you stand upon any of the hills which stand round Sidmouth, the whole valley seems to be thickly wooded down to the very verge of the sea, and these pretty villas to be springing from the ground almost as thickly and quite as naturally as the trees themselves. There are certainly many more houses out of the town than in it, and they all stand apart, yet near, hiding in their own shrubberies, or behind the green rows of elms which wall in the secluded lanes on either side. Such a number of green lanes I never saw; some of them quite black with foliage, where it is twilight in the middle of the day, and others letting in beautiful glimpses of the spreading heathy hills or of the sunny sea. I am sure you would like the transition from the cliffs, from the bird’s eye view to, I was going to say, the mole’s eye view, but I believe moles don’t see quite clearly enough to suit my purpose. There are a great number of people here. Sam was at an evening party a week ago where there were a hundred and twenty people; but they don’t walk about the parade and show themselves as one might expect. _We_ know only the Herrings and Mrs. and the Miss Polands and Sir John Kean. Mrs. and Miss Weekes, and Mr. and Mrs. James have called upon us, but we were out when they came. I suppose it will be necessary to return their visits and to know them; and when we do, you shall hear about them, and about everybody whom we know. I am certainly much better in health, stronger than I was, and less troubled with the cough. Every day I attend [_word torn out_] their walks on my donkey, if we do not go in a boat, which is still pleasanter. I believe Henrietta walks out about _three_ times a day. She is looking particularly well, and often talks, and I am sure still oftener thinks, of you. You know how fond of you she is. Papa walks out with her–and _us_; and we all, down to
Occyta, breakfast and drink tea together. The dining takes place at five o’clock. To-morrow, if this lovely weather will stand still and be accommodating, we talk of rowing to Dawlish, which is about ten miles off. We have had a few cases of cholera, at least _suspicious_ cases: one a fortnight before we arrived, and five since, in the course of a month. All dead except one. I confess a little nervousness; but it is wearing away. The disease does not seem to make any progress; and for the last six days there have been no patients at all.
Do let us hear very soon, my dear Mrs. Martin, how you are–how your spirits are, and whether Rome is still in your distance. Surely no plan could be more delightful for you than this plan; and if you don’t stay _very_ long away, I shall be sorry to hear of your abandoning it. Do you recollect your promise of coming to see us? _We_ do.
You must have had quite enough now of my ‘little hand’ and of my details. Do not go to Matton or to the Bartons or to Eastnor without giving my love. How often my thoughts are at _home_! I cannot help calling it so still in my thoughts. I may like other places, but no other place can ever appear to me to deserve that name.
Dearest Mrs. Martin’s affectionate
_To Mrs. Martin_
Sidmouth: December 14, 1832.
My dearest Mrs. Martin,–I hope you are very angry indeed with us for not writing. We are as penitent as we ought to be–that is, I am, for I believe I am the idle person; yet not altogether idle, but procrastinating and waiting for news rather more worthy of being read in Rome than any which even now I can send you…. And now, my dear Mrs. Martin, I mean to thank you, as I ought to have done long ago, for your kindness in offering to procure for me the _Archbishop of Dublin’s_ valuable opinion upon my ‘Prometheus. I am sure that if you have not thought me very ungrateful, you must be very indulgent. My mind was at one time so crowded by painful thoughts, that they shut out many others which are interesting to me; and among other things, I forgot once or twice, when I had an opportunity, to thank _you_, dear Mrs. Martin. I believe I should have taken advantage of your proposal, but papa said to me, ‘If he criticises your manuscript in a manner which does not satisfy you, you won’t be easy without defending yourself, and he might be drawn into taking more trouble than you have now any idea of giving him.’ I sighed a little at losing such an opportunity of gaining a great advantage, but there seemed to be some reason in what papa said I have completed a preface and notes to my translation; and since doing so, a work of exactly the same character by a Mr. Medwin has been published, and commended in Bulwer’s magazine. Therefore it is probable enough that my trouble, excepting as far as my own amusement went, has been in vain. But papa means to try Mr. Valpy, I believe. He left us since I began to write this letter, with a promise of returning before Christmas Day. We _do_ miss him. Mr. Boyd has made me quite angry by publishing his translations by rotation in numbers of the ‘Wesleyan Magazine,’ instead of making them up into a separate publication, as I had persuaded him to do. There is the effect, you see, of going, even for a time, out of my reach! The readers of the ‘Wesleyan Magazine’ are pious people, but not cultivated, nor, for the most part, capable of estimating either the talents of Gregory or his translator’s. I have begun already to _insist_ upon another publication in a separate form, and shall gain my point, I dare say. I have been reading Bulwer’s novels and Mrs. Trollope’s libels, and Dr. Parr’s works. I am sure _you_ are not an admirer of Mrs. Trollope’s. She has neither the delicacy nor the candour which constitute true nobility of mind and her extent of talent forms but a scanty veil to shadow her other defects. Bulwer has quite delighted me. He has all the dramatic talent which Scott has, and all the passion which Scott has not, and he appears to me to be besides a far profounder discriminator of character. There are very fine things in his ‘Denounced.’ We subscribe to the best library here, but the best is not a good one. I have, however, a table-load of my own books, and with them I can always be satisfied. Do you know that Mr. Curzon has left Ledbury? We were glad to receive your letter from Dover although it told us that you were removing so far from us. Do let us hear of your enjoying Italy. Is there much English society in Rome, and is it like English society here? I can scarcely fancy an invitation card, ‘Mrs. Huggin-muggin at home,’ carried through the _Via Sacra_. I am sure my ‘little hand’ has done its duty to-day. I shall leave the corners to Henrietta. Give our kindest regards to Mr. Martin, and ever believe me, my dear Mrs. Martin,
[Footnote 13: Archbishop Whately.]
[Footnote 14: _The New Monthly Magazine_, at this time edited by Bulwer, afterwards the first Lord Lytton.]
The letter just printed contains the first allusion in Miss Barrett’s letters to any of her own writings. The translation of the ‘Prometheus Bound’ of Aeschylus was the first-fruits of the removal to Sidmouth. It was written, as she told Horne eleven years afterwards, ‘in twelve days, and should have been thrown into the fire afterwards–the only means of giving it a little warmth.' Indeed, so dissatisfied did she subsequently become with it, that she did what she could to suppress it, and in the collected edition of 1850 substituted another version, written in 1845, which she hoped would secure the final oblivion of her earlier attempt. The letter given above shows that the composition of the earlier version took place at the end of 1832; and in the following year it was published by Mr. Valpy, along with some shorter poems, of which Miss Barrett subsequently wrote that ‘a few of the fugitive poems may be worth a little, perhaps; but they have not so much goodness as to overcome the badness of the blasphemy of Aeschylus.’ The volume, which was published anonymously, received two sentences of contemptuous notice from the ‘Athenaeum,’ in which the reviewer advised ‘those who adventure in the hazardous lists of poetic translation to touch anyone rather than Aeschylus, and they may take warning by the author before us.'
[Footnote 15: _Letters to R.H. Home_, i. 162.]
[Footnote 16: It need hardly be said that the literary resurrectionist has been too much for her, and the version of 1833 has recently been reprinted. Of this reprint the best that can be said is that it provides an occasion for an essay by Mrs. Meynell.]
[Footnote 17: _Athenaeum_, June 8, 1833.]
_To Mrs. Martin_
Sidmouth: May 27, 1833.
My dearest Mrs. Martin,–I am half afraid of your being very angry indeed with me; and perhaps it would be quite as well to spare this sheet of paper an angry look of yours, by consigning it over to Henrietta. Yet do believe me, I have been anxious to write to you a long time, and did not know where to direct my letter. The history of all my unkindness to you is this: I delayed answering your kind welcome letter from Rome, for three weeks, because Henrietta was at Torquay, and I knew that she would like to write in it, and because I was unreasonable enough to expect to hear every day of her coming home. At the end of the three weeks, and on consulting your dates and plans, I found out that you would probably have quitted Rome before any letter of mine arrived there. Since then, I have been inquiring, and all in vain, about where I could find you out. All I could hear was, that you were somewhere between Italy and England; and all I could do was, to wait patiently, and throw myself at your feet as soon as you came within sight and hearing. And now do be as generous as you can, my dear Mrs. Martin, and try to forgive one who never _could_ be guilty of the fault of forgetting you, notwithstanding appearances. We heard only yesterday of your being expected at Colwall. And although we cannot welcome you there, otherwise than in this way, at the distance of 140 miles, yet we must welcome you in this way, and assure both of you how glad we are that the same island holds all of us once more. It pleased us very much to hear how you were enjoying yourselves in Rome; and you must please us now by telling us that you are enjoying yourselves at Colwall, and that you bear the change with English philosophy. The fishing at Abbeville was a link between the past and the present; and would make the transition between the eternal city and the eternal tithes a little less striking. My wonder is how you could have persuaded yourselves to keep your promise and leave Italy as soon as you did. Tell me how you managed it. And tell me everything about yourselves–how you are and how you feel, and whether you look backwards or forwards with the most pleasure, and whether the influenza has been among your welcomers to England. Henrietta and Arabel and Daisy were confined by it to their beds for several days and the two former are only now recovering their strength. Three or four of the other boys had symptoms which were not strong enough to put them to bed. As for me, I have been quite well all the spring, and almost all the winter. I don’t know when I have been so long well as I have been lately; without a cough or anything else disagreeable. Indeed, if I may place the influenza in a parenthesis, we have all been perfectly well, in spite of our fishing and boating and getting wet three times a day. There is good trout-fishing at the Otter, and the noble river Sid, which, if I liked to stand in it, _might_ cover my ankles. And lately, Daisy and Sette and Occyta have studied the art of catching shrimps, and soak themselves up to their waists like professors. My love of water concentrates itself in the boat; and this I enjoy very much, when the sea is as blue and calm as the sky, which it has often been lately. Of society we have had little indeed; but Henrietta had more than much of it at Torquay during three months; and as for me, you know I don’t want any though I am far from meaning to speak disrespectfully of _Mr. Boyds_, which has been a pleasure and comfort to me. His house is not farther than a five minutes’ walk from ours; and I often make it _four_ in my haste to get there. Ask Eliza Cliffe to lend you the May number of the ‘Wesleyan Magazine;’ and if you have an opportunity of procuring last December’s number, _do_ procure _that_. There are some translations in each of them, which I think you will like. The December translation is my favourite, though I was amanuensis only in the May one. Henrietta and Arabel have a drawing master, and are meditating soon beginning to sketch out of doors–that is, if before the meditation is at an end we do not leave Sidmouth. Our plans are quite uncertain; and papa has not, I believe, made up his mind whether or not to take this house on after the beginning of next month; when our engagement with our present landlord closes. If we do leave Sidmouth, you know as well as I do where we shall go. Perhaps to Boulogne! perhaps to the Swan River. The West Indians are irreparably ruined if the Bill passes. Papa says that in the case of its passing, nobody in his senses would think of even attempting the culture of sugar, and that they had better hang weights to the sides of the island of Jamaica and sink it at once. Don’t you think certain heads might be found heavy enough for the purpose? No insinuation, I assure you, against the Administration, in spite of the dagger in their right hands. Mr. Atwood seems to me a demi-god of ingratitude! So much for the ‘fickle reek of popular breath’ to which men have erected their temple of the winds–who would trust a feather to it? I am almost more sorry for poor Lord Grey who is going to ruin us, than for our poor selves who are going to be ruined. You will hear that my ‘Prometheus and other Poems’ came into light a few weeks ago–a fortnight ago, I think. I dare say I shall wish it out of the light before I have done with it. And I dare say Henrietta is wishing me anywhere, rather than where I am. Certainly I have past _all bounds_. Do write soon, and tell us everything about Mr. Martin and yourself. And ever believe me, dearest Mrs. Martin,
[Footnote 18: Alfred, the fifth brother.]
_To Mrs. Martin_
Sidmouth: September 7, 1833.
My dearest Mrs. Martin,–Are you a _little_ angry _again_? I do hope not. I should have written long ago if it had not been for Henrietta; and Henrietta would have written very lately if it had not been for me: and we must beg of you to forgive us both for the sake of each other. Thank you for the kind letter which I have been so tardy in thanking you for, but which was not, on that account, the less gladly received. Do believe how much it pleases me _always_ to see and read dear Mrs. Martin’s handwriting. But I must try to tell you some less ancient truths. We are still in the ruinous house. Without any poetical fiction, the walls are too frail for even _me_, who enjoy the situation in a most particularly particular manner, to have any desire to pass the winter within them. One wind we have had the privilege of hearing already; and down came the tiles while we were at dinner, and made us all think that down something else was coming. We have had one chimney pulled down to prevent it from tumbling down; and have received especial injunctions from the bricklayers not to lean too much out of the windows, for fear the walls should follow the destiny of the chimney. Altogether there is every reasonable probability that the whole house will in the course of next winter be as like Persepolis as anything so ugly can be! If another house which will fit us can be found in Sidmouth, I am sure papa will take it; but, as he said the other day, ‘If I can’t find a house, I must go.’ I hope he may find one, and as near the sea as this ruin. I have enjoyed its moonlight and its calmness all the summer; and am prepared to enjoy its tempestuousness of the winter with as true an enjoyment. What we shall do ultimately, I do not even dream; and, if I know papa, _he_ does not. My visions of the future are confined to ‘what shall I write or read next,’ and ‘when shall we next go out in the boat,’ and _they_, you know, can do no harm to anybody. Of one thing I have a comforting certainty–that wherever we may go or stay, the decree which moves or fixes us will and must be the ‘wisest virtuousest discreetest best!’ …
So, I will change the subject to myself. You told me that you were going to read my book, and I want to know what you think of it. If you were given to compliment and insincerity, I should be afraid of asking you; because, among other _evident_ reasons, I might then appear to be asking for your praise instead of your opinion. As it is–I want to know what you think of my book. Is the translation stiff? If you know me at all (and I venture to hope that you do) you will be certain that I shall _like_ your honesty, and love you for being honest, even if you put on the very blackest of black caps….
Of course you know that the late Bill has ruined the West Indians. That is settled. The consternation here is very great. Nevertheless I am glad, and always shall be, that the negroes are–virtually–free!
May God bless you, dear Mrs. Martin!
Ever believe me, your affectionate
_To H.S. Boyd_
Sidmouth: Friday .
My dear Friend,–I don’t know how I shall begin to persuade you not to be angry with me, but perhaps the best plan will be to confess as many sins as would cover this sheet of paper, and then to go on with my merits. Certainly I am altogether guiltless of your charge of not noticing your book’s arrival because no Calvinism arrived with it. I told you the bare truth when I told you _why_ I did not write immediately. The passage relating to Calvinism I certainly read, and as certainly was sorry for; but as certainly as both those certainties, such reading and such regret had nothing whatever to do with the silence which made you so angry with me.
The other particular thing of which I should have written is Mr. Parker and my letters. I am more and, more sorry that you should have sent them to him at all–not that their loss is any loss to anybody, but that I scarcely like the idea–indeed, I don’t like it at all–of their remaining, worthless as they are, at Mr. P.’s mercy. As for my writing about them, I should not be able to make up my mind to do _that_. You know I had nothing to do with their being sent to Mr. Parker, and was indeed in complete ignorance of it. Besides, I should be half ashamed to write to him now on any subject. A very long interregnum took place in our correspondence, which was his own work; and when he wrote to me the summer before last, I delayed from week to week, and then from month to month, answering it. And now I feel ashamed to write at all.
Perhaps you will wonder why I am not ashamed to write to _you_. Indeed I have meant to do it very, very often. Don’t be severe upon me. I am always afraid of writing to you too often, and so the opposite fault is apt to be run into–of writing too seldom. IF THAT is a _fault_. You see my scepticism is becoming faster and faster developed.
Let me hear from you soon, if you are not angry. I have been reading the Bridgewater treatise, and am now trying to understand Prout upon Chemistry. I shall be worth something at last, shall I not? Who knows but what I may die a glorious death under the _pons asinorum_ after all? Prout (if I succeed in understanding him) does not hold that matter is infinitely divisible; and so I suppose the seeds of matter–the ultimate molecules–are a kind of _tertium quid_ between matter and spirit. Certainly I can’t believe that any kind of matter, primal or ultimate, can be _indivisible_, which it must according to his view.
Chalmers’s treatise is, as to eloquence, surpassingly beautiful; as to matter, I could not walk with him all the way, although I longed to do it, for he walked on flowers, and under shade–‘no tree on which a fine bird did not sit.’ …
Believe me, your affectionate friend, E.B.B.
_To H.S. Boyd_
Sidmouth: September 14, .
My dear Mr. Boyd,–I won’t ask you to forgive me for not writing before, because I know very well that you would rather have not heard from me immediately…. And so, you and Mrs. Mathew have been tearing to pieces–to the very rags–all my elaborate theology! And when Mr. Young is ‘strong enough,’ he is to help you at your cruel work! ‘The points upon which you and I differed’ are so numerous, that if I really _am_ wrong upon every one of them, Mrs. Mathew has indeed reason to ‘punish me with hard thoughts.’ Well, she can’t help my feeling for her much esteem, although I never saw her. And if I _were_ to see her, I would not argue with her; I would only ask her to let me love her. I am weary of controversy in religion, and should be so were I stronger and more successful in it than I am or care to be. The command is not ‘argue with one another,’ but ‘love one another.’ It is better to love than to convince. They who lie on the bosom of Jesus must lie there _together_!
Not a word about your book! Don’t you mean to tell me anything of it? I saw a review of it–rather a satisfactory one–I think in an _August_ number of the ‘Athenaeum.’ If you will look into ‘Fraser’s Magazine’ for August, at an article entitled ‘Rogueries of Tom Moore,’ you will be amused with a notice of the ‘Edinburgh Review’s’ criticism in the text, and of yourself in a note. We have had a crowded Bible meeting, and a Church Missionary and London Missionary meeting besides; and I went last Tuesday to the Exmouth Bible meeting with Mrs. Maling, Miss Taylor, and Mr. Hunter. We did not return until half-past one in the morning…. The Bishop of Barbadoes and the Dean of Winchester were walking together on the beach yesterday, making Sidmouth look quite episcopal. You would not have despised it _half so much_, had you been here.
Do you know any person who would like to send his or her son to Sidmouth, for the sake of the climate, and private instruction: and if you do, will you mention it to me? I am very sorry to hear of Mrs. Boyd being so unwell. Arabel had a letter two days ago from Annie, and as it mentions Mrs. Boyd’s having gone to Dover, I trust that she is well again. Should she be returned, give my love to her.
The black-edged paper may make you wonder at its cause. Our dear aunt Mrs. Butler died last month at Dieppe–and died _in Jesus_. Miss Clarke is going, if she is not gone, to Italy for the winter.
Believe me, affectionately yours,
Write to me whenever you _dislike it least_, and tell me what your plans are. I hear nothing about our leaving Sidmouth.
[Footnote 19: _The Fathers not Papists_, including a reprint of some translations from the Greek Fathers, which Mr. Boyd had published previously.]
_To Miss Commeline_
September 22, 1834 [Sidmouth].
I am afraid that there can be no chance of my handwriting at least being unforgotten by you, dear Miss Commeline, but in the case of your having a very long memory you may remember the name which shall be written at the end of this note, and which belongs to one who does not, nor is likely to forget you! I was much, _much_ obliged to you for the kind few lines you wrote to me–how long ago! No, do not remember how long–do not remember _that_ for fear you should think me unkind, and–what I am not! I have intended again and again to answer your note, and I am doing it–_at last_! Are you all quite well? Mrs. Commeline and all of you? Shall I ever see any of you again? Perhaps I shall not; but even if I do not, I shall not cease to wish you to be well and happy ‘in the body or out of the body.’
We came to Sidmouth for two months, and you see we are here still; and when we are likely to go is as uncertain as ever. I like the place, and some of its inhabitants. I like the greenness and the tranquillity and the sea; and the solitude of one dear seat which hangs over it, and which is too far or too lonely for many others to like besides myself. We are living in a thatched cottage, with a green lawn bounded by a _Devonshire lane_. Do you know what that is? Milton did when he wrote of ‘hedgerow elms and hillocks green.’ Indeed Sidmouth is a nest among elms; and the lulling of the sea and the shadow of the hills make it a peaceful one. But there are no majestic features in the country. It is all green and fresh and secluded; and the grandeur is concentrated upon the ocean without deigning to have anything to do with the earth. I often find my thoughts where my footsteps once used to be! but there is no use in speaking of that….
Pray believe me, affectionately yours, E.B. BARRETT.
_To Mrs. Martin_
Sidmouth: Friday, December 19, 1834 [postmark].
My dearest Mrs. Martin,–… We have lately had deep anxiety with regard to our dear papa. He left us two months ago to do his London business: and a few weeks since we were told by a letter from him that he was ill; he giving us to understand that his complaint was of a rheumatic character. By the next coach, we were so daring (I can scarcely understand how we managed it) as to send Henry to him: thinking that it would be better to be scolded than to suffer him to be alone and in suffering at a London hotel. We were not scolded: but my prayer to be permitted to follow Henry was condemned to silence: and what was said being said emphatically, I was obliged to submit, and to be
thankful for the unsatisfactory accounts which for many days afterwards we received…. I cannot help being anxious and fearful. You know he is _all_ left to us–and that without him we should indeed be orphans and desolate. Therefore you may well know what feelings those are with which we look back upon his danger; and forwards to any threatening of a return of it…. It may not be so. Do not, when you write, allude to my fearing about it. Our only feeling now should certainly be a deep feeling of thankfulness towards that God of all consolation Who has permitted us to know His love in the midst of many griefs; and Who while He has often cast upon us the sorrow and the shadow, has yet enabled us to recognise it as that ‘shadow of the wings of the Almighty,’ wherein we may ‘rejoice.’ We shall probably see our dear papa next week. At least we know that he is only waiting for strength and that he is already able to go out–I fear, not to _walk_ out. Here we are all well. Belle Vue is sold, and we shall probably have to leave it in March: but I do not think that we shall do so before. Henrietta is still very anxious to leave Sidmouth altogether; and I still feel that I shall very much grieve to leave it: so that it is happy for us that neither is the _decider_ on this point. I have often thought that it is happier _not_ to do what one pleases, and perhaps you will agree with me–if you don’t please at the present moment to do something very particular. And do tell me, dear Mrs. Martin, what you are pleasing to do, and what you are doing: for it seems to me, and indeed is, a long time since I heard of you and Mr. Martin _in detail_. Miss Maria Commeline sent a note to Henrietta a fortnight ago: and in it was honorable mention of you–but I won’t interfere with the sublimities of your imagination, by telling you what it was…. I should like to hear something of Hope End: whether there are many alterations, and whether the new lodge, of which I heard, is built. Even now, the thought stands before me sometimes like an object in a dream that I shall see no more those hills and trees which seemed to me once almost like portions of my existence. This is not meant for murmuring. I have had much happiness at Sidmouth, though with a character of its own. Henrietta and Arabel and I are the only guardians just now of the three youngest boys, the only ones at home: and I assure you, we have not too little to do. They are no longer _little_ boys. There is an anxiety among us just now to have letters from Jamaica–from my dear dear Bro–but the packet is only ‘expected.’ The last accounts were comforting ones; and I am living on the hope of seeing him back again in the spring. Stormie and Georgie are doing well at Glasgow. So Dr. Wardlaw says…. Henrietta’s particular love to you; and _do_ believe me always,
You have of course heard of poor Mrs. Boyd’s death. Mr. Boyd and his daughter are both in London, and likely, I think, to remain there.
_To H.S. Boyd_
Sidmouth: Tuesday [spring 1835].
My dear Mr. Boyd,–… Now I am going to tell you the only good news I know, and you will be glad, I know, to be told what I am going to tell you. Dear Georgie has taken his degree, and very honorably, at Glasgow, and is coming to us in all the dignity of a Bachelor of Arts. He was examined in Logic, Moral Philosophy, Greek and Latin, of course publicly: and we have heard from a fellow student of his, that his answers were more pertinent than those of any other of the examined, and elicited much applause. Mr. Groube is the fellow student–but he has ceased to be one, having found the Glasgow studies too heavy for his health. Stormie shrank from the public examination, on account of the hesitation in his speech. He would not go up; although, according to report, as well qualified as Georgie. Mr. Groube says that the ladies of Glasgow are preparing to break their hearts for Georgie’s departure: and he and Stormie leave Glasgow on May I. Now, I am sure you will rejoice with me in the result of the examination. Do you not, dear friend? I was very anxious about it; and almost resigned to hear of a failure–for Georgie was in great alarm and prepared us for the very worst. Therefore the surprise and pleasure were great.
I can’t tell you of our plans; although the Glasgow students come to us in a week and this house will be too small to receive them. We may leave Sidmouth immediately, or not at all. I shall soon be quite qualified to write a poem on the ‘Pleasures of _Doubt_’–and a very good subject it will be. The pleasures of certainty are generally far less enjoyable–I mean as pleasures go in this unpleasing world. Papa is in London, and much better when we heard from him last–and we are awaiting his decree….
And now what remains for me to tell you? I believe I have read more Hebrew than Greek lately; yet the dear Greek is not less dear than ever. Who reads Greek to you? Who holds my office? Some one, I hope, with an articulation of more congenial slowness.
Give Annie my kind love. May God preserve both of you!
Believe me, your affectionate friend, E.B. BARRETT.
The residence of the Barretts at Sidmouth had never been a very settled one–never intended to be permanent, and yet never having a fixed term nor any reason for a fixed term. Hence it spread itself gradually over a space of nearly three years, before the long contemplated move to London actually took place. During the latter part of that period, however, extant letters of Miss Barrett are almost wholly wanting, and there is little information from any other source as to the course of her life. It was apparently in the summer of 1835 that Sidmouth was finally left behind, Mr. Barrett having then taken a house at 74 Gloucester Place (near Baker Street), which, though never regarded as more than a temporary residence, continued to be the home of his family for the next three years.
The move to London was followed by two results of great importance for Elizabeth Barrett. In the first place, her health, which had never been strong, broke down altogether in the London atmosphere, and it is from some time shortly after the arrival in Gloucester Place that the beginning of her invalid life must be dated. On the other hand, residence in London brought her into the neighbourhood of new friends; and although the number of those admitted to see her in her sick-room was always small, we yet owe to this fact the commencement of some of her closest friendships, notably those with her distant cousin, John Kenyon, and with Miss Mitford, the authoress of ‘Our Village,’ and of a correspondence on a much fuller and more elaborate scale than any of the earlier period. To this, no doubt, the fact of her confinement to her room contributed not a little; for being unable to go out and see her friends, much of her communication with them was necessarily by letter. At the same time her literary activity was increasing. She began to contribute poems to various magazines, and to be brought thereby into connection with literary men; and she was also employed on the longer compositions which went to make up her next volume of published verse.
All this was, however, only of gradual development; and for some time her correspondence is limited to Mr. Boyd, who was now living in St. John’s Wood, and Mrs. Martin. The exact date of the first letter is uncertain, but it seems to belong to a time soon after the arrival of the Barretts in town.
_To H.S. Boyd_
[74 Gloucester Place, London: autumn 1835.]
My dear Mr. Boyd,–As Georgie is going to do what I am afraid I shall not be able to do to-day–namely, to visit _you_–he must take with him a few lines from _Porsonia_ _greeting_, to say how glad I am to feel myself again at only a short distance from you, and how still gladder I shall be when the same room holds both of us. Don’t be angry because I have not visited you immediately. You know–or you _will_ know, if you consider–I cannot open the window and fly.
Papa and I were very much obliged to you for the poison–and are ready to smile upon you whenever you give us the opportunity, as graciously as Socrates did upon his executioner. How much you will have to say to me about the Greeks, unless you begin first to abuse me about the _Romans_; and if you begin _that_, the peroration will be a very pathetic one, in my being turned out of your doors. Such is my prophecy.
Papa has been telling me of your abusing my stanzas on Mrs. Hemans’s death. I had a presentiment that you would: and behold, why I said nothing to you of them. Of course, I maintain, _versus_ both you and papa, that they are very much to be admired: as well as everything else proceeding from or belonging to ME. Upon which principle, I hope you will admire George particularly.
Believe me, dear Mr. Boyd, your affectionate friend, E.B. BARRETT.
Arabel’s and my love to Annie. Won’t she come to see us?
_To Mrs. Martin_
74 Gloucester Place, Portman Square, London: Jan. I, 1836.
My dearest Mrs. Martin,–I am half willing and half unwilling to write to you when, among such dearer interests and deep anxieties, you may perhaps be scarcely at liberty to attend to what I write. And yet I _will_ write, if it be only briefly, that you may not think–if you think of us at all–that we have changed our hearts with our residence so much as to forget to sympathise with you, dear Mrs. Martin, or to neglect to apprise you ourselves of our movements. Indeed, a letter to you should have been written among my first letters on arriving in London, only Henrietta (my scape-goat, _you_ will say) said, ‘_I_ will write to Mrs. Martin.’ And then after I had waited, and determined to write without waiting any longer, we heard of poor Mrs. Hanford’s affliction and your anxiety, and I have considered day after day whether or not I should intrude upon you; until I find myself–_thus_!
I do hope that you have from the hand of God those consolations which only He in Jesus Christ can give to the so afflicted. For I know well that you are afflicted with the afflicted, and that with you sympathy is suffering; and that while the tenderest earthly comfort is administered by your presence and kindness to your dear friends, you will feel bitterly for them what a little thing earthly comfort is, when the earthly beloved perish before them. May He who is the Beloved in the sight of His Father and His Church be near to them and you, and cause you to _feel_ as well as _know_ the truth, that what is sudden sorrow, to our judgments, is only long-prepared mercy in _His_ will whose names are _Wisdom_ and _Love_. Should it not be, dear friend, that the tears of our human eyes ought to serve the happy and touching purpose of reminding us of those tears of Jesus which He shed in assuming our sorrow with our flesh? And the memory of those tears involves all comfort. A recognition of the oneness of the human nature of that Divine Saviour who ever liveth, with ours which perishes and sorrows so; an assurance drawn from thence of _His_ sympathy who sits on the throne of God, with us who suffer in the dust of earth, and of all those doctrines of redemption and sanctification and happiness which come from Him and by Him.
Now you will forgive me for writing all this, dearest Mrs. Martin. I like to write my thoughts and feelings out of my own head and heart, just as they suggest themselves, when I write to you; and I cannot think of affliction, particularly when it comes near to me in the affliction or anxiety of dear friends, without looking back and remembering what voice of God used to sound softly to me when none other could speak comfort. You will forgive me, and not be angry with me for trying, or seeming to try, to be a sermon writer.
Perhaps, dear Mrs. Martin, when you do feel inclined and able to write, you would write me a few lines. Remember, I do not ask for them _now_. No, do not think of writing now. I shall very much like to hear how your dear charge is–whether there should appear any prospect of improvement; and how poor Mrs. Hanford bears up against this heavy calamity; and whether the anxiety and nursing affect your health. But we shall try to hear this from the Biddulphs; and so do put me out of your head, except when its thoughts would dwell on those on earth who sympathise with you and care for you.
You see we are in London after all, and poor Sidmouth left afar. I am almost inclined to say ‘poor us’ instead of ‘poor Sidmouth.’ But I dare say I shall soon be able to see in my dungeon, and begin to be amused with the spiders. Half my soul, in the meantime, seems to have stayed behind on the seashore, which I love more than ever now that I cannot walk on it in the body. London is wrapped up like a mummy, in a yellow mist, so closely that I have had scarcely a glimpse of its countenance since we came. Well, I am trying to like it all very much, and I dare say that in time I may change my taste and my senses–and succeed. We are in a house large enough to hold us, for four months, at the end of which time, if the experiment of our being able to live in London succeed, I _believe_ that papa’s intention is to take an unfurnished house and have his furniture from Ledbury. You may wonder at me, but I wish that were settled _so_, and _now_. I am _satisfied_ with London, although I cannot enjoy it. We are not likely, in the case of leaving it, to return to Devonshire, and I should look with weary eyes to another strangership and pilgrimage even among green fields that know not these fogs. Papa’s object in settling here refers to my brothers. George will probably enter as a barrister student at the Inner Temple on the fifth or sixth of this month, and he will have the advantage of his home by our remaining where we are. Another advantage of London is, that we shall see here those whom we might see nowhere else. This year, dear Mrs. Martin, may it bring with it the true pleasure of seeing _you_! Three have gone, and we have not seen you…. May God bless you and all that you care for, being with you always as the God of consolation and peace.
It is from the middle of this year that Miss Barrett’s active appearance as an author may be dated. Hitherto her publications had been confined to a few small anonymous volumes, printed rather to please herself and her friends than with any idea of appealing to a wider public. She was now anxious to take this farther step, and, with that object, to obtain admission to some of the literary magazines. This was obtained through the instrumentality of Mr. R.H. Home, subsequently best known as the author of ‘Orion.’ He was at this time personally unknown to Miss Barrett, but an application through a common friend led both to the opening to the poetess of the pages of the ‘New Monthly Magazine,’ then edited by Bulwer, and also to the commencement of a friendship which has left its mark in the two volumes of published letters to Mr. Home. The following is Mr. Home’s account of the opening of the acquaintance (‘Letters,’ i. 7, 8):
‘My first introduction to Miss Barrett was by a note from Mrs. Orme, inclosing one from the young lady containing a short poem with the modest request to be frankly told whether it might be ranked as poetry or merely verse. As there could be no doubt in the recipient’s mind on that point, the poem was forwarded to Colburn’s “New Monthly,” edited at that time by Mr. Bulwer (afterwards the late [first] Lord Lytton), where it duly appeared in the current number. The next manuscript sent to me was “The Dead Pan,” and the poetess at once started on her bright and noble career.’
The poem with which Miss Barrett thus made her bow to the world of letters was ‘The Romaunt of Margret,' which appeared in the July number of the magazine. Mr. Home must, however, have been in error in speaking of ‘The Dead Pan’ as its successor, since that was not written till some years later. More probably it was ‘The Poet’s Vow, which was printed in the October number of the ‘New Monthly.’
[Footnote 20: _Poetical Works_, ii. 3.]
[Footnote 21: _Ib_. i. 277.]
_To H.S. Boyd_
[London:] October 14, Friday .
My dear Friend,–Be as little angry with me as you can. I have not been very well for a day or two, and shall enjoy a visit to you on Monday so much more than I shall be able to do to-day, that I will ask you to forgive my not going to you this week, and to receive me kindly on that day instead–provided, you know, it is not wet.
The [Greek: Achaiides] approach the [Greek: Achaioi] more tremblingly than usual, with the ‘New Monthly Magazine’ in their hands. Now pray don’t annoy yourself by reading a single word which you would rather not read except for the sake of being kind to me. And my prophecy is, that even by annoying yourself and making a _strenuous_ effort, the whole force of friendship would not carry you down the first page. Georgie says you want to know the verdict of the ‘Athenaeum.’ That paper unfortunately has been lent out of the house; but my memory enables me to send you the words very correctly, I think. After some observations on other periodicals, the writer goes on to say: ‘The “New Monthly Magazine” has not one heavy article. It is rich in poetry, including some fine sonnets by the Corn Law Rhymer, and a fine although too dreamy ballad, “The Poet’s Vow.” We are almost tempted to pause and criticise the work of a writer of so much inspiration and promise as the author of this poem, and exhort him once again, to greater clearness of expression and less quaintness in the choice of his phraseology; but this is not the time or place for digression.’
You see my critic has condemned me with a very gracious countenance. Do put on yours,
And believe me, affectionately yours, E.B. BARRETT.
I forgot to say that you surprised and pleased me at the same time by your praise of my ‘Sea-mew.' Love to Annie. We were glad to hear that she did not _continue_ unwell, and that you are well again, too. I hope you have had no return of the rheumatic pain.
[Footnote 22: Miss Barrett’s Greek is habitually written without accents or breathings.]
[Footnote 23: _Poetical Works_, ii. 278.]
_To H.S. Boyd_
[74 Gloucester Place:] Saturday, [October 1836].
My dear Friend,–I am much disappointed in finding myself at the end of this week without having once seen you–particularly when your two notes are waiting all this time to be answered. Do believe that they were not, either of them, addressed to an ungrateful person, and that the only reason of their being received _silently_ was my hope of answering them more agreeably to both of us–by talking instead of writing.
Yes; you have read my mystery.
You paid a tithe to your human nature in reading only _nine-tenths_ of it, and the rest was a pure gift to your friendship for me, and is taken and will be remembered as such. But you have a cruel heart for a parody, and this one tried my sensibility so much that I cried–with laughing. I confess to you notwithstanding, it was _very fair_, and dealt its blow with a shining pointed weapon.
But what will you say to me when I confess besides that, in the face of all your kind encouragement, my Drama of the Angels has never been touched until the last three days? It was _not_ out of pure idleness on my part, nor of disregard to your admonition; but when my thoughts were distracted with other things, books just begun inclosing me all around, a whole load of books upon my conscience, I could not possibly rise up to the gate of heaven and write about my angels. You know one can’t sometimes sit down to the sublunary, occupation of reading Greek, unless one feels _free_ to it. And writing poetry requires a double liberty, and an inclination which comes only of itself.
But I have begun. I tried the blank metre once, and it _would not do_, and so I had to begin again in lyrics. Something above an hundred lines is written, and now I am in two panics, just as if one were not enough. First, because it seems to me a very daring subject–a subject almost beyond our sympathies, and therefore quite beyond the sphere of human poetry. Perhaps when all is written courageously, I shall have no courage left to publish it. Secondly, because all my tendencies towards mysticism will be called into terrible operation by this dreaming upon angels.
Yes; you _will_ read a mystery,
but don’t make any rash resolutions about reading anything. As I have begun, I certainly will go on with the writing.
Here is a question for you:
Am I to accept your generous sacrifice of reading nine-tenths of my ‘Vow,’ as an atonement for your WANT OF CONFIDENCE IN ME? Oh, your conscience will understand very well what I mean, without a dictionary.
Arabel and I intend to pay you a visit on Monday, and if we can, and it is convenient to you, we are inclined to invite ourselves to your dinner table. But this is all dependent on the weather.
Believe me, dear Mr. Boyd, your affectionate friend, E.B. BARRETT.
[Footnote 24: An allusion to the first line of ‘The Poet’s Vow.’]
[Footnote 25: The ‘Seraphim,’ published in 1838.]
_To H.S. Boyd_
[74 Gloucester Place:] November 26, 1836 [postmark].
My dear Mr. Boyd,–I have been so busy that I have not been able until this morning to take breath or _inspiration_ to answer your lyrics. You shall see me soon, but I am sorry to say it can’t be Monday or Tuesday.
I have had another note from the editor of the ‘New Monthly Magazine’–very flattering, and praying for farther supplies. The Angels were not ready, and I was obliged to send something else, which I will not ask you to read. So don’t be very uneasy.
Arabel’s and my best love to Annie. And believe me in a great hurry, for I won’t miss this post,
Your lyrics found me dull as prose
Among a file of papers
And analysing London fogs
To nothing but the vapours.
They knew their part; but through the fog Their flaming lightning raising;
They missed my fancy, and instead, My choler set a-blazing.
Quoth I, ‘I need not care a pin
For charge unjust, unsparing;
Yet oh! for ancient bodkin keen, To punish this _Pindaring_.
‘Yet oh! that I, a female Jove,
These fogs sublime might float on, Where, eagle-like, my dove might show
A very [Greek: _ugron noton_].
‘Then lightning should for lightning flash, Vexation for vexation,
And shades of St. John’s Wood should glow In awful conflagration.’
I spoke; when lo! my birds of peace, The vengeance disallowing,
Replied, ‘Coo, coo!’ But _keep in mind_, That _cooing_ is not _cowing_.
[Footnote 26: The bodkin seems to be a favourite weapon with ancient dames whose genius was for killing (note by E.B.B.).]
[Footnote 27: A reference to Pindar, _Pyth_.i. 9.]
[Footnote 28: These verses are inclosed with the foregoing letter, as a retort to Mr. Boyd’s parody.]
_To Mrs. Martin_
74 Gloucester Place: December 7, 1836.
My dearest Mrs. Martin,–Indeed I have long felt the need of writing to you (I mean the need to myself), and although so many weeks and even months have passed away in silence, they have not done so in lack of affection and thought.
I had wished very much to have been able to tell you in this letter where we had taken our house, or where we were going to take it. We remain, however, in our usual state of conscious ignorance, although there is a good deal of talking and walking about a house in Wimpole Street–which, between ourselves, I am not very anxious to live in, on account of the gloominesses of that street, and of that part of the street, whose walls look so much like Newgate’s turned inside out. I would rather go on, in my old way, inhabiting castles in the air than that particular house. Nevertheless, if it _is_ decided upon, I dare say I shall contrive to be satisfied with it, and sleep and wake very much as I should in any other. It will certainly be a point gained to be settled somewhere, and I do so long to sit in my own armchair–strange as it will look out of my own room–and to read from my own books…. For our own particular parts, our healths continue good–none of us, I think, the worse for fog or wind. As to wind, we were almost elevated into the prerogative of _pigs_ in the late storm. We could almost _see_ it, and the feeling it might have been fatal to us. Bro and I were moralising about shipwrecks, in the dining-room, when down came the chimney through the skylight into the entrance passage. You may imagine the crashing effect of the bricks bounding from the staircase downwards, breaking the stone steps in the process, in addition to the falling in of twenty-four large panes of glass, frames and all. We were terrified out of all propriety, and there has been a dreadful calumny about Henrietta and me–that we had the hall door open for the purpose of going out into the street with our hair on end, if Bro had not _encouraged_ us by shutting the door and locking it. I confess to opening the door, but deny the purpose of it–at least, maintain that I only meant to keep in reserve a way of escape, _in case_, as seemed probable, the whole house was on its way to the ground. Indeed, we should think much of the _mercy_ of the escape. Bro had been on the staircase only five minutes before. Sarah the housemaid was actually there. She looked up accidentally and saw the nodding chimneys, and ran down into the drawing-room to papa, shrieking, but escaping with one graze of the hand from one brick. How did _you_ fare in the wind? I never much imagined before that anything so true to nature as a real live storm could make itself heard in our streets. But it has come too surely, and carried away with it, besides our chimney, all that was left to us of the country, in the shape of the Kensington Garden trees. Now do write to me, dearest Mrs. Martin, and soon, and tell me all you can of your chances and mischances, and how Mr. Martin is getting on with the parish, and yourself with the parishioners. But you have more the name of living at Colwall than the thing. You seem to me to lead a far more wandering life than we, for all our homelessness and ‘pilgrim shoon.’ Why, you have been in Ireland since I last said a word to you, even upon paper….
I sometimes think that a pilgrim’s life is the wisest–at least, the most congenial to the ‘uses of this world.’ We give our sympathies and associations to our hills and fields, and then the providence of God gives _them_ to another, It is better, perhaps, to keep a stricter _identity_, by calling only our thoughts our own.
Was there anybody in the world who ever loved London for itself? Did Dr. Johnson, in his paradise of Fleet Street, love the pavement and the walls? I doubt _that_–whether I ought to do so or not–though I don’t doubt at all that one may be contented and happy here, and love much _in_ the place. But the place and the privileges of it don’t mix together in one’s love, as is done among the hills and by the seaside.
I or Henrietta must have told you that one of my privileges has been to see Wordsworth twice. He was very kind to me, and let me hear his conversation. I went with him and Miss Mitford to Chiswick, and thought all the way that I must certainly be dreaming. I saw her almost every day of her week’s visit to London (this was all long ago, while you were in France); and she, who overflows with warm affections and generous benevolences, showed me every present and absent kindness, professing to love me, and asking me to write to her. Her novel is to be published soon after Christmas, and I believe a new tragedy is to appear about the same time, ‘under the protection of Mr. Forrest.’ Papa has given me the first two volumes of Wordsworth’s new edition. The engraving in the first is his _own face_. You might think me affected if I told you all I felt in seeing the living face. His manners are very simple, and his conversation not at all _prominent_–if you quite understand what I mean by _that_. I do myself, for I saw at the same time Landor–the brilliant Landor!–and _felt_ the difference between great genius and eminent talent; All these visions have passed now. I hear and see nothing, except my doves and the fireplace, and am doing little else than [_words torn out_] write all day long. And then people ask me what I _mean_ in [_words torn out_]. I hope you were among the six who understood or half understood my ‘Poet’s Vow’–that is, if you read it at all. Uncle Hedley made a long pause at the first part. But I have been reading, too, Sheridan Knowles’s play of the ‘Wreckers.’ It is full of passion and pathos, and made me shed a great many tears. How do you get on with the reading society? Do you see much or anything of Lady Margaret Cocks, from whom I never hear now? I promised to let her have ‘Ion,’ if I could, before she left Brighton, but the person to whom it was lent did not return it to me in time. Will you tell her this, if you do see her, and give her my kind regards at the same time? Dear Bell was so sorry not to have seen you. If she had, you would have thought her looking _very_ well, notwithstanding the thinness–perhaps, in some measure, on account of it–and in _eminent_ spirits. I have not seen her in such spirits for very, very long. And there she is, down at Torquay, with the Hedleys and Butlers, making quite a colony of it, and everybody, in each several letter, grumbling in an undertone at the dullness of the place. What would _I_ give to see the waves once more! But perhaps if I were there, I should grumble too. It is a happiness to them to be _together_, and that, I am sure, they all feel….
Believe me, dearest Mrs. Martin, your affectionate E.B.B.
Oh that you would call me Ba!
[Footnote 29: Elizabeth Barrett’s ‘pet name’ (see her poem, _Poetical Works_, ii. 249), given to her as a child by her brother Edward, and used by her family and friends, and by herself in her letters to them, throughout her life.]
_To H.S. Boyd_
[74 Gloucester Place:]
Thursday, December 15, 1836 [postmark].
My dear Mr. Boyd,–… Two mornings since, I saw in the paper, under the head of literary news, that a change of editorship was taking place in the ‘New Monthly Magazine;’ and that Theodore Hook was to preside in the room of Mr. Hall. I am so much too modest and too wise to expect the patronage of two editors in succession, that I expect both my poems in a return cover, by every twopenny post. Besides, what has Theodore Hook to do with Seraphim? So, I shall leave that poem of mine to your imagination; which won’t be half as troublesome to you as if I asked you to read it; begging you to be assured–to write it down in your critical rubric–that it is the very finest composition you ever read, _next_ (of course) to the beloved ‘De Virginitate’ of Gregory Nazianzen.
Mr. Stratten has just been here. I admire him more than I ever did, for his admiration of my doves. By the way, I am sure he thought them the most agreeable of the whole party; for he said, what he never did before, that he could sit here for an hour! Our love to Annie–and forgive me for Baskettiring a letter to you. I mean, of course, as to size, not type.
Is your poem printed yet?
[Footnote 30:Do you mind that deed of Ate Which you bound me to so fast,–
Reading ‘De Virginitate,’
From the first line to the last?
How I said at ending solemn,
As I turned and looked at you,
That Saint Simeon on the column
Had had somewhat less to do?
‘Wine of Cyprus’ (_Poetical Works_, iii. 139)]
_To H.S. Boyd_
[74 Gloucester Place:] Tuesday [Christmas 1836].
My dear Friend,–I am very much obliged to you for the _two_ copies of your poem, so beautifully printed, with such ‘majestical’ types, on such ‘magnifical’ paper, as to be almost worthy of Baskett himself. You are too liberal in sending me more than one copy; and pray accept in return a duplicate of gratitude.
As to my ‘Seraphim,’ they are not returned to me, as in the case of their being unaccepted, I expressly begged they might be. Had the old editor been the present one, my inference would of course be, that their insertion was a determined matter; but as it is, I don’t know what to think. A long list of great names, belonging to _intending_ contributors, appeared in the paper a day or two ago, and among them was Miss Mitford’s.
Are you wroth with me for not saying a word about going to see you? Arabel and I won’t affirm it mathematically–but we are, metaphysically, _talking_ of paying our visit to you next Tuesday. Don’t expect us, nevertheless.
What are my Christmas good wishes to be? That you may hold a Field in your right hand, and a Baskerville in your left, before the year is out! That degree of happiness will satisfy at least the _bodily_ part of you.
You may wish, in return, for _me_, that I may learn to write rather more legibly than ‘at these presents.’
Our love to Annie.
Won’t you send your new poem to Mr. Barker, to the care of Mr. Valpy, with your Christmas benedictions?
[Footnote 31: As a matter of fact, ‘The Seraphim’ was not printed in the _New Monthly_, being probably thought too long.]
_To Mrs. Martin_.
[74 Gloucester Place:] January 23, 1837 [postmark].
My dearest Mrs. Martin,–I am standing in Henrietta’s place, she says–but not, _I_ say, to answer your letter to _her_ yesterday, but your letter to _me_, some weeks ago–which I meant to answer much more immediately if the _ignis fatuus_ of a house (you see to what a miserable fatuity I am reduced, of applying your pure country metaphors to our brick pollutions) had not been gliding just before us, and I had not much wished to be able to tell you of our settlement. As it is, however, I must write, and shall keep a solemn silence on the solemn subject of our shifting plans….
No! I was not at all disappointed in Wordsworth, although perhaps I should not have singled him from the multitude as a great man. There is a _reserve_ even in his countenance, which does not lighten as Landor’s does, whom I saw the same evening. His eyes have more meekness than brilliancy; and in his slow even articulation there is rather the solemnity and calmness of _truth_ itself, than the animation and energy of those who seek for it. As to my being quite at my ease when I spoke to him, why how could you ask such a question? I trembled both in my soul and body. But he was very kind, and sate near me and talked to me as long as he was in the room–and recited a translation by Cary of a sonnet of Dante’s–and altogether, it was quite a dream! Landor too–Walter Savage Landor … in whose hands the ashes of antiquity burn again–gave me two Greek epigrams he had lately written … and talked brilliantly and prominently until Bro (he and I went together) abused him for _ambitious_ singularity and affectation. But it was very interesting. And dear Miss Mitford too! and Mr. Raymond, a great Hebraist and the ancient author of ‘A Cure for a Heartache!’ I never walked in the skies before; and perhaps never shall again, when so many stars are out! I shall at least see dear Miss Mitford, who wrote to me not long ago to say that she would soon be in London with ‘Otto,’ her new tragedy, which was written at Mr. Forrest’s own request, he in the most flattering manner having applied to her a stranger, as the authoress of ‘Rienzi,’ for a dramatic work worthy of his acting–after rejecting many plays offered to him, and among them Mr. Knowles’s…. She says that her play will be quite opposed, in its execution, to ‘Ion,’ as unlike it ‘as a ruined castle overhanging the Rhine, to a Grecian temple.’ And I do not doubt that it will be full of ability; although my own opinion is that she stands higher as the authoress of ‘Our Village’ than of ‘Rienzi,’ and writes prose better than poetry, and transcends rather in Dutch minuteness and high finishing, than in Italian ideality and passion. I think besides that Mr. Forrest’s rejection of any play of Sheridan Knowles must refer rather to its unfitness for the development of his own personal talent, than to its abstract demerit, whatever Transatlantic tastes he may bring with him. The published title of the last play is ‘The Daughter,’ not ‘The Wreckers,’ although I believe it was acted as the last. I am very anxious to read ‘Otto,’ not to _see_ it. I am not going to see it, notwithstanding an offered temptation to sit in the authoress’s own box. With regard to ‘Ion,’ I think it is a beautiful work, but beautiful _rather_ morally than intellectually. Is this right or not? Its moral tone is very noble, and sends a grand and touching harmony into the midst of the full discord of this utilitarian age. As dramatic _poetry_, it seems to me to want, not beauty, but power, passion, and condensation. This is my _doxy_ about ‘Ion.’ Its author made me very proud by sending it to me, although we do not know him personally. I have _heard_ that he is a most amiable man (who else could have written ‘Ion’?), but that he was a little _elevated_ by his popularity last year!…
I have read Combe’s ‘Phrenology,’ but not the ‘Constitution of Man.’ The ‘Phrenology’ is very clever, and amusing; but I do not think it logical or satisfactory. I forget whether ‘slowness of the pulse’ _is_ mentioned in it as a symptom of the poetical aestus. I am afraid, if it be a symptom, I dare not take my place even in the ‘forlorn hope of poets’ in this age so forlorn as to its poetry; for my pulse is in a continual flutter and my feet not half cold enough for a pedestal–so I must make my honours over to poor papa straightway. He has been shivering and shuddering through the cold weather; and partaking our influenza in the warmer. I am very sorry that you should have been a sufferer too. It seems to have been a universal pestilence, even down in Devonshire, where dear Bummy and the whole colony have had their share of ‘groans.’ And one of my doves shook its pretty head and ruffled its feathers and shut its eyes, and became subject to pap and nursing and other infirmities for two or three days, until I was in great consternation for the result. But it is well again–cooing as usual; and so indeed we all are. But indeed, I can’t write a sentence more without saying some of the evil it deserves–of the utilitarianisms of this corrupt age–among some of the chief of which are steel pens!
I am so glad that you liked my ‘Romaunt,’ and so resigned that you did not understand some of my ‘Poet’s Vow,’ and so obliged that you should care to go on reading what I write. They vouchsafed to publish in the first number of the new series of the ‘New Monthly’ a little poem of mine called ‘The Island,' but so incorrectly that I was glad at the additional oblivion of my signature. If you see it, pray alter the last senseless line of the first page into ‘Leaf sounds with water, in your ear,’ and put ‘amreeta’ instead of ‘amneta’ on the second page; and strike out ‘_of_’ in the line which names Aeschylus! There are other blunders, [but] these are intolerable, and cast me out of my ‘contentment’ for some time. I have begged for [proof] sheets in future; and as none have come for the ensuing month, I suppose I shall have nothing in the next number. They have a lyrical dramatic poem of mine, ‘The Two Seraphim,’ which, whenever it appears, I shall like to have your opinion of. As to the incomprehensible line in the ‘Poet’s Vow’ of which you asked me the meaning, ‘One making one in strong compass,’ I meant to express how that oneness of God, ‘in whom are all things,’ produces a oneness or sympathy (sympathy being the tendency of many to become one) in all things. Do you understand? or is the explanation to be explained? The unity of God preserves a unity in men–that is, a perpetual sympathy between man and man–which sympathy we must be subject to, if not in our joys, yet in our griefs. I believe the subject itself involves the necessity of some mysticism; but I must make no excuses. I am afraid that my very Seraphim will not be thought to stand in a very clear light, even at heaven’s gate. But this is much _asay_ about nothing …
The Bishop of Exeter is staying and preaching at Torquay. Do you not envy them all for making part of his congregation? I am sure I do _as much_. I envy you your before-breakfast activity. I am never a _complete man_ without my breakfast–it seems to be some integral part of my soul. _You_ ‘read all O’Connell’s speeches.’ I never read any of them–unless they take me by surprise. I keep my devotion for _unpaid_ patriots; but Miss Mitford is another devotee of Mr. O’Connell …
Dearest Mrs. Martin’s affectionate
Thank you for the ‘Ba’ in Henrietta’s letter. If you knew how many people, whom I have known only within this year or two, whether I like them or not, say ‘Ba, Ba,’ quite naturally and pastorally, you would not come to me with the detestable ‘Miss B.’
[Footnote 32: Serjeant Talfourd.]
[Footnote 33: _Poetical Works_, ii. 248.]
_To Mrs. Martin_
London: August 16, 1837.
My dear Mrs. Martin,–It seems a long long time since we had any intercourse; and the answer to your last pleasant letter to Henrietta _must_ go to you from me. We have heard of you that you don’t mean to