July 10, 1846 Miss Barrett writes a letter to her brother George Barrett who is a lawyer, asking for his advise and help in dealing with the Haydon matter. This letter is interesting on so many levels. It illuminates her relationship with her brother, his knowledge of her relationship with Browning and their relationship with their father. While all of the Barrett siblings live together at 50 Wimpole Street, George Barrett is apparently on the road and away from London quite a bit in his capacity with the circuit court, thus the need to send this letter:
"My dearest George,
I have some things ‘on my mind’ & they must be off it for the first relief, before I begin to talk of other things. Very much I have been pained & perplexed & surprised lately, & you shall hear now.
It appears that poor Mr. Haydon had left a paper declaratory of his last wishes, now in the hands of Mr. Sergeant Talfourd, in which to my infinite astonishment, he makes a bequest of his memoirs & other papers to me desiring that I should edit & place them for publication in Longman’s hands. Mr. Forster called on Mr. Kenyon to apprise him of this, and Mr. Kenyon came to tell me of it at once.
I was amazed-The memoirs of which you may remember that I was shown a part, about a year and a half ago, though curious and interesting, are perfectly unfit for publication without large modification-as I told Mr. Haydon at the time. There are said to be twenty six volumes of them-and you may imagine that if a blind man would be an unqualified president of the Royal Academy, I must be quite as unqualified for an editorship of such a description-I, without the experience of art & of the world-who belong to a later generation & know nothing of the persons mentioned or the events referred to-that you must see at a glance. Also, it is scarcely the work of a woman-"
Rather an odd comment for a woman. Hmmm...
"Now then-Mr. Kenyon advised me to write to Mr. Sergeant Talfourd, to desire information respecting this paper-I waited however for a day or two. I felt unwilling to write to Mr. Talfourd.
In the meanwhile, Mr. Browning dine at Russell Square last tuesday-(he was of course aware of these circumstances). Scarcely had the men entered on their wine after dinner, when Mr. Sergeant Talfourd took up the subject of poor Haydon & the bequest he had made to me-& read a letter of Miss Mitford’s and two letters of mine-or parts of them-(which either in copy or the original, she had taken the great liberty of sending straight to him, after having called him ‘the falsest of men’ two days before in my room!) an absurd letter of Miss Mitford’s, to compliment Talfourd on the occasion of poor Haydon’s carrying out the principle of ‘Ion’ –(conceive that!) & to communicate the contents of my letters, in which, with natural expressions of feeling, (how can I remember what I said in a moment of emotion, to a friend like Miss Mitford?) I spoke of the boxes & pictures which I had.-‘And so speaks out great poetess,’ ended she ecstatically. Which Talfourd commented on by supposing drily that when Miss B wrote of Miss M; it was—‘And so speaks our great dramatist.’ You know how he hates her-& none of the ridicule of what appears to have been a most ridiculous letter, was let fall to the ground.
So, somebody said one thing, & another; another somebody said that Miss Barrett was plainly a very particular friend of Haydon’s--& somebody said that her house appeared to be the receptacle for his goods against his creditors—till at last Mr. Browning, no longer able to contain his indignation, (observe that Edwin Landseer, Babbage, Forster & more were present!) took it upon himself to answer for it of his own knowledge, that I had never seem Haydon in my life, & had received the things he sent, just as anyone would, who had too much heart to throw them into the street. Afterwards he took Talfourd aside, and told him that I had been selected for the editorship precisely because of my inexperience & isolation from the world, & in the hope that I would print everything & spare nobody. ‘But,’ said Talfourd, ‘she must beware of printing anything at this time-& beware also of its being known that she has in her possession any deposit from Haydon-otherwise she will subject herself to a legal prosecution’ So spoke the great man of the law."
Happily she does not lose her wit or wits! The things that men spoke about over wine and cigars. To think that Miss Barrett was the topic of conversation among men with cigars! No wonder Browning was indignant!
"Mr. Browning thought it advisable that I should write at once to Talfourd, therefore, stating fully yet briefly the facts-that Mr. Haydon had written to me—which led first into our correspondence of some months-that I had not heard from him above a year, till the week preceding his death-that I had received a deposit from his hands no more than twice—once before the last fatal time! & that what I received, had no pecuniary value as he represented it, consisting of private papers & a few sketches, & his oil-that I never saw him in my life, & was astonished & perplexed at being named for an office for which I considered myself unqualified-All this, I wrote to Mr. Talfourd, ending by begging to know what I could do, not to do wrong-& he has my letter, I suppose, before he left town for circuit yesterday morning. I have yet had no reply.
Now, George, he probably will speak to you on the subject-he probably will. Therefore remember & take heed to your speech. I am very desirous of paying every respect to poor Mr. Haydon’s memory-everything that I could do, I would do. At the same time let Mr. Talfourd understand the simple facts, & that this house was not used as a receptacle for the purpose of defrauding his creditors, & also that I never saw him in my life--, People were ‘astonished how Miss B came to know’ &c—Poor Haydon did not lead the most prudent of lives it appears. See what a scrape I am in---Mr. Kenyon might well say as he did –‘You, of all in the world I should have thought, would have been safe from the danger of such a position.’
I took the precaution of saying to Mr. Talfourd, in my letter to him, that in agreeing to receive those things, it would have been better if I have first consulted my father & brothers, but that I could not hesitate so long as to admit of it—Which I said lest you might be blamed more gravely that I could be for an act of pitifulness!—Besides it is only just. It was my own deed. If I had asked Papa he would not have let me, you know-& I did not ask him."
She is certainly a thoughtful person, she does not want Talfourd to think unwell of George lest he believe George gave her poor legal advise.
"You will observe too that that Mr. Browning’s account to me of what passed at Mr. Serjt. Talfourd’s table, is not to be referred to or repeated, anywise or anywhere—nor Miss Mitford’s name, mentioned. I have no claim on him, Talfourd-he is not my friend-he judged of things as he saw them at the first glance. As to Miss Mitford-she was foolish and thoughtless-but meant no harm, though I am very angry in the shadow of my soul. But I heard all this from Mr. Browning, & you must not on any account let it be breathed upon by other breath than our own. I never saw him so angry since our acquaintance began. Worse things were said or implied I do not doubt, than what he told me, he was so angry."
She has certainly had a lot to forgive Miss Mitford for. The lady does seem to be serially indiscreet. Her description of Browning's anger is certainly stronger here than is reflected in her letters to him. She initially did not even address Browning's anger in her first letter of July 9th and only mentioned it briefly after he expressed regret for his anger toward Haydon after he had taken the time to read his letters. She knew he was angry only because he was 'sorry' for her. She certainly seemed to be trying to tamp down the fire in that quarter. Here again, she is taking the blame on herself, certainly a very humble position.
"If his name should be mentioned at all between Talfourd & you—that is, if Talfourd should mention it to you..-remember that he only knows of our correspondence & not our personal acquaintance.-Mr. Browning’s & mine-So be on your guard.
Papa knows nothing of this turmoil, except generally of the bequest.
Have I made it clear to you, George? I have been vexed, perplexed, more than you fancy perhaps-yet I am sure you will see that it is an unpleasant position. Write your thoughts to me and advise.
Poor, poor Haydon-What are we—to complain of the dust upon his grave? Poor Haydon!"
"I have just now a letter from Miss Mitford, unconscious as she is that I know of her freedom with my letters. As she has just heard from Mr. Serjt. Talfourd, she says, who writes of ‘Our great poetess, as you very properly call her &c.’ &c Oh Mr. Serjeant Talfourd! – Oh – Oh, the flummery of Sergeants at Law! May it not well make one sick! – Sweet indeed in the mouth, & bitter in the digestion, is the parlance of this world!-"
I would venture to say that Mr. Sergeant Talfourd has thoroughly disgusted Miss Barrett!
"He said to Mr. Browning—‘If she will put me in possession of the facts, I can arrange everything with her brother, when I meet him on circuit – I know him – he is a VERY PROMISING YOUTH! – Which was sincere, at least – I suppose, for he need not have said it to RB."
This letter seems very honest and straight forward. She is not shading the story to hide dishonorable conduct on her part. She is rightly trying to protect her position legally and her reputation. She does seem willing however, to allow herself to seem feminine and 'pitiful' in order to make herself seem more of a victim. Since she was the victim of the actions of a desperate man this excuse seems hardly necessary. But she does not over play this hand.
It is interesting to get a peek at her relationship with her brother. Notice that she gave no prohibition to George to say anything to their father. Did she not make this prohibition because she knew she did not need to or because she would not put a restriction on her brother that he could not abide? Perhaps both. She certainly makes it clear to him that she has not told their father and her reasons for not doing so. She also does her best to protect Browning. She does not explain to George why she does not want George to mention her meetings with Browning. He obviously understands the reasoning without her explanation. They come from a place of commonality. Her spurt of disgust against Talfourd for his 'flummery' is certainly worth the price of admission. Another great letter from Miss Barrett.