Wednesday, November 21, 2012

November 21, 1845 EBB Letter to Miss Mitford

Let's look at what Miss Barrett is telling Miss Mitford in the midst of so much change in Miss Barrett's life:


Day by day I have had my heart almost in my pen to write to you, ever dearest Miss Mitford, & the sun sets somewhere behind the fog without my doing it. The obstacle has been the thought of the ‘list of books’ which was to be wrung from my reluctant memory—but write I must today let the memoirs be ever so un-come-at-able .. & I write. Have you seen (to make amends) a work of Balzac, ‘late St Aubin’ says the title page, called ‘L’Israelite’? It is not new of course—& I have nothing good or bad to say of it, but it is just sent to me from the library, & ‘my heart leaps up’ .. as hearts of the innocent do at the rainbow, you know. By the way ‘Paula Monti’ is nothing but ‘L’Hotel Lambert,’ which we both know. I mentioned to you .. did I not? .. ‘Paula Monti’ by Eugene Sue—& also ‘Les deux Histoires’ for which however I dun Rolandi in vain. Tell me if you have heard of any other works from these French writers—& tell me too of dear Flush & his ear: I shall be so glad to have good news of him."
She begins with books to recommend and ends with Flush's ear. This is her Flush's father. Her Flush was a gift from Miss Mitford.

Have you read Pomfret? Have you quick access to it—or would you like me to send it to you from hence? The books are lent at this moment, but they will come back & you shall have them, if you do not from Mr Lovejoy .. which is probable; & let me hear what you think of the work when you have finished the reading. I hold it to be the most successful work of imagination produced by Mr Chorley, .. only not precisely a strong book. He wants sustaining & developing power. But it is a good true & natural book—& I like the noiseless unassuming acting out of the ‘private judgement’, without any rustling of silks & stamping of cothurns. The best .. the most lifelike & complete .. character in the book is that of ‘Mr Rose’ I think. Now see if it is’nt. Neither of the heroines altogether pleases me .. but the author’s heroine, least of all—& the hero (who, by the way, has no 'judgement' whatever, for private or public uses) can please nobody. There are scenes of quiet touching pathos which you will like—& the pure, good intention is everywhere. And now see if your thoughts are of the colour of mine—let us hold them together!–

The amateur comedy was crowned with success—the theatre, crowded, & every seat, equally in boxes & gallery, went for a guinea—and Mr Forster & Dickens were admirable, the cry is on all sides. There is to be another performance .. of the Alchymist it is supposed, .. for the benefit of Miss Kelly. You know that ‘Every man in his humour’ was played this last time & the time before. Yes—& the next news is, that Boz the universal is on the threshold of an immense undertaking .. no less a one than the editing of a newspaper, a daily newspaper, to represent ultra politics at the right end .. anti-corn law interests & the like. It is said that some twentyfive thousand pounds have been subscribed to the speculation by great capitalists, & that five first rate reporters have been engaged for three years at the rate of seven guineas a week: also that the newspaper is to combine literature with politics as in the French journals.– What do you think of this? Is Dickens fit for it?"
This newspaper was launched in 1846 with Dickens as editor, however, he soon gave up editorship. Editing a newspaper is very time consuming for a man who writes.

"My next news is that Mrs Butler arrived in England some ten days ago with the intention of assisting her father in the readings by which he is making sixty guineas a week,—but was followed so closely by a letter .. from her husband, the conjecture goes,—some letter of influence .. that she changed her mind & is about to go back straight to the land of stripes (according to the scandal) & stars undramatic!"
This is a reference to Fanny Kemble the British actress (and daughter of a well known acting family) who married a very wealthy American (Georgian) slave owner, Pierce Butler (does that name seem familiar to anyone?) She divorced him in 1847 and travelled in Europe where she interacted with the Browning's. She was strongly anti-slavery after witnessing the treatment of slaves on her husband's plantations and wrote a book describing the deplorable conditions. This of course would have put her in orbit with the Browning's who were also strongly anti-slavery. The 'readings' referenced here were readings of Shakespeare. Both her father and Miss Kemble toured performing readings rather than staging the plays. Very wise if you can pull it off. Think of the profit margin. She is famously quoted as saying that Browning was the only man she knew who acted as a Christian toward his wife. This from a woman who was not treated well by her husband and whose marrage ended in divorce in an age when divorce was quite a scandal.

"Then Mrs Jameson is said to be in London after her wanderings in Germany & Italy. I have not seen her yet.

How much news (for me!) I have sent you today. Methinks I deserve a letter back again. Mr Browning has published a new ‘Bell & Pomegranate’ .. a new number, .. full of power & various & original faculty, .. on which Landor has addressed him in some beautiful verses, worthy, I think, of the praised & the praiser. Though you are an unbeliever I shall write them down for you underneath. See.

'There is delight in singing, though none hear
Beside the singer; and there is delight
In praising though the praiser sit alone
And see the praised far off him, far above.
Shakespeare is not our poet but the world’s,
Therefore on him no speech, & short for thee
Browning!– Since Chaucer was alive & hale
No man hath walked along our roads with step
So active, so inquiring eye, or tongue
So varied in discourse. But warmer climes
Give brighter plumage, stronger wing: the breeze
Of Alpine heights thou playest with, borne on
Beyond Sorrento & Amalfi, where
The Siren waits thee, singing song for song.'
W.S Landor"

Miss Barrett could not resist showing off her boy to Miss Mitford who did not care for Browning. She found him too feminine, I think she called him 'feminette'. Oh dear. Was her gaydar going off or was she simply intimidated by him? He does seem to have had a rather strong personality.

"After which I say goodbye–
Your ever affectionate EBB.

I find by a glance at L’Israelite that it is just ‘Clothilde’ .. alas–"
So, our French novel lover is disappointed that the new, old Balzac sent by the library is one that she has already read. Drat!

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