Elizabeth Barrett Browning (Ingram, 5th ed.)/Chapter 3
Towards the autumn of 1838 Miss Barrett's condition grew critical. Almost as a last resource Dr. Chambers, her medical adviser, recommended her removal to a warmer situation than London. Whilst on the one hand it was feared she could not survive the winter in the metropolis, on the other a long journey was hazardous. Ultimately, in preference to trying a foreign climate, it was decided to risk a move as far as Torquay, and her brother Edward, a brother, as Miss Mitford says, "in heart and in talent worthy of such a sister," constituted himself her guardian. Miss Barrett herself said that her beloved brother meant to fold her in a cloak and carry her in his arms.
The journey to Torquay was accomplished in safety. Comfortable apartments, with a fine view of the bay, were obtained at the lower end of Brecon Terrace, At first the mild breezes of the south coast appeared to exercise a beneficial effect upon the invalid, and she was enabled to continue her correspondence with literary friends, especially with Miss Mitford. That lady writes on November 5th, "My beloved Miss Barrett is better . . . If she be spared to the world and should, as she probably will, treat of such subjects as afford room for passion and action, you will see her passing all women and most men, as a narrative or dramatic poet. After all," she adds, "she is herself in her modesty, her sweetness, and her affectionate warmth of heart, by very far more wonderful than her writings, extraordinary as they are." A few days after these eulogistic lines their writer received a letter from the subject of them, in which she remarks, "Whenever I forget to notice any kindness of yours, do believe, my beloved friend, that I have, notwithstanding, marked the date of it with a white stone, and also with a heart not of stone." Referring then to some precious seedlings which Miss Mitford, from her own luxuriant little floral realm had sent her, she adds: "You said, 'Distribute the seeds as you please,' so, mindful of 'those of my own household,' I gave Sept. and Occy. (Septimus and Octavius, her youngest brothers) leave to extract a few very carefully for their garden, composed of divers flower-pots and green boxes a-gasping for sun and air from the leads behind our house, and giving the gardeners fair excuse for an occasional coveted colloquy with a great chief gardener in the Regent's Park. Yes, and out of a certain precious packet inscribed—as Arabel (her sister Arabella) described it to me—from Mr. Wordsworth—I desired her to reserve some for my very own self, because, you see, if it should please God to permit my return to London, I mean ('pway don't wangh,' as Ibbit says, when she has been saying something irresistibly ridiculous)—I mean to have a garden too—a whole flower-pot to myself—in the window of my particular sitting-room; and then it will be hard indeed if, while the flowers grow from those seeds, thoughts of you and the great poet may not grow from them besides."
A page or two more of such innocent chatter follows, and would seem to imply that the invalid's case was not deemed so hopeless, at least by herself, as had been imagined. Turning to more personal affairs, Miss Barrett says:—
My beloved father has gone away; he was obliged to go two days ago, and took away with him, I fear, almost as saddened spirits as he left with me. The degree of amendment does not, of course, keep up with the haste of his anxieties. It is not that I am not better, but that he loves me too well; there was the cause of his grief in going, and it is not that I do not think myself better, but that I feel how dearly he loves me; there was the cause of my grief in seeing him go. One misses so the presence of such as dearly love us. His tears fell almost as fast as mine did when we parted, but he is coming back soon—perhaps in a fortnight—so I will not think any more of them, but of that. I never told him of it, of course, but, when I was last so ill, I used to start out of fragments of dreams, broken from all parts of the universe, with the cry from my own lips, "Oh, papa! papa!" I could trace it back to the dream behind, yet there it always was very curiously, and touchingly too, to my own heart, seeming scarcely of me, though it came from me, at once waking me with, and welcoming me to, the old straight humanities. Well! but I do trust I shall not be ill again in his absence, and that it may not last longer than a fortnight.
This exposure of her inmost thoughts is thoroughly characteristic of Elizabeth Barrett: the words not only show what intense affection existed between her and her father, but are representative of that semimesmeric state which illness, confinement, and overstudy appear to have cast her into. Her religion was so real, so intense, so much a part of her existence at this period of her life, that it coloured everything about her and caused, her to regard every incident for good or ill as if it were a direct interposition of the Deity. Seraphim and Cherubim, of whom she had recently written so much, were not the purely ideal personages of her poetic fancy, but she held on to her belief in them as strongly as if they were visually knowable, and she regarded Lucifer, Adam, Eve, and other characters of the ancient scriptures as truly historical as Cæsar or Brutus, Antony or Cleopatra. Science was little more than blasphemy, and that the world had existed upwards of six thousand years the fancy at the best of over-heated imagination. Such a woman could be a poet of poets, a very woman of women, with a heart for all that suffers and exists, and yet, at times, so bigoted and so blinded by excess of faith that she could not rightly judge the motives and their main-springs of many of the best about her.
Life at Torquay passed away quietly enough. The invalid's physical state varied, yet on the whole a gradual improvement was evidently taking place in her physique. On the 3rd of December she is found writing Miss Mitford one of her usual chatty epistles, discussing with her wonted clarity their various literary and personal matters of mutual interest, not, however, without some slight allusions to her own foreboding fancies. Referring to some disputes the editress of the Tableaux was having with its proprietor, Miss Barrett says, "You may make whatever use of me you please, as long as I am alive, and able to write at all," and that Miss Mitford did not fail to avail herself of this permission is self-evident. After some remarks about Mr. Kenyon, Miss Barrett observes, "So he won't have anything to say to our narrative poetry in Finden? But he is a heretic, therefore we won't mind. After all, I am afraid (since it displeases you) that what I myself delight in most, in narrative poetry, is not the narrative. Beaumont and Fletcher, strip them to their plots, your own Beaumont and Fletcher, and you take away their glory. Alfieri is more markedly a poet of action than any other poet I can think of, and how he makes you shiver!"
Speaking of the franking of her letter, she says, with the humour so frequently displayed in those earlier days of her career: "Little thinks the Bishop, whose right reverend autograph conveys my letter to you, that he is aiding and abetting the intercourse of such very fierce radicals. Indeed, the last time I thought of politics I believe I was a republican, to say nothing of some perilous stuff of 'sectarianism,' which would freeze his ecclesiastical blood to hear of." The "fierce radicalism" of "dearest Miss Mitford" was, after all, scarcely strong enough to have disturbed his Grace's equanimity, whatever her young correspondent's would have done, had he learned aught of it.
On the 5th of January 1839, Miss Barrett writes to inform her friend that her wishes for a happy new year are already fulfilled, for "papa has come!" Then, speaking of certain family reports as to their friend Kenyon not appearing to be in such good spirits as is usual with him, she throws certain side-lights upon her own character. "It must be that the life he (Kenyon) leads," she observes, "will tell at last and at least on his spirits. Only the unexcitable by nature can be supposed to endure continual external occasions of excitement. As if there were not enough—too much—that is exciting from within. For my own part, I can't understand the craving for excitement. Mine is for repose. My conversion into quietism might be attained without much preaching; and, indeed, all my favourite passages in the Holy Scriptures are those which express and promise peace, such as 'The Lord of peace Himself give you peace always and by all means'; 'My peace I give you, not as the world giveth give I'; and 'He giveth His beloved sleep,"—all such passages. They strike upon the disquieted earth with such a foreignness of heavenly music. Surely the 'variety,' the change, is to be unexcited, to find a silence and a calm in the midst of thoughts and feelings given to be too turbulent."
In these remarks, so illustrative of her character at this period, Miss Barrett, as is not unusual with her, fails to appreciate the immense difference there is between opposite dispositions, between the bright, healthy, wealthy, much fêted man of the world, and the invalided, pious, somewhat superstitious "hermitess." "I am tolerably well just now," is her significant conclusion, "and all the better for the sight of papa. He arrived the day before yesterday."
But even all the kind care, much less the sight of dear ones, could not restore the invalid to health and strength. Her studies and her poetry, her readings and her correspondence, were carried on fitfully and during intervals of longer or shorter duration as her forces permitted. To her enthusiastic praises of some foreign poetry, sent during this period to Miss Mitford, that lady rejoins, in a letter of May 28th: "After all, to be English, with our boundless vistas in verse and in prose, is a privilege and a glory; and you are born amongst those who make it such, be sure of that. I do not believe, my sweetest, that the very highest poetry does sell at once. Look at Wordsworth! The hour will arrive, and all the sooner, if to poetry, unmatched in truth and beauty and feeling, you condescend to add story and a happy ending, that being among the conditions of recurrence to every book with the mass even of cultivated readers—I do not mean the few."
Much as the poetess loved and admired this experienced correspondent, she never allowed her ideas or advice to influence the thought or—save in the Tableaux—even the theme of her works, and continued to write poems in which the story, if any, was subordinated to the sentiment, and in which the ending was as far removed from happiness as possible.
The slow months dragged on at Torquay, and no great improvement took place in the invalid's condition; indeed, she went from bad to worse, and at last seemed scarcely to have any hold on life, so far as physical power was concerned. According to Miss Mitford, writing in March 1810, since the 1st of October she had not been dressed, "only lifted from her bed to the sofa, and for the last month not even taken out of bed to have it made. Yet she still writes to me," says her friend, "and the physicians still encourage hope; but her voice has not for six months been raised above a whisper." Then again, writing about the same time to another correspondent, Miss Mitford says of the invalid: "The physicians at their last consultation said it was not only possible, but probable, that she would so far recover as to live for many years in tolerable comfort. In the meanwhile she writes to me long letters at least twice a week, reads everything, from the magazines of the day to Plato and the Fathers, and has written (vide the Athenæum of three weeks ago) the most magnificent poem ever written by woman on the Queen's Marriage. Great as is her learning, her genius is still more remarkable, and it is beginning to be felt and acknowledged in those quarters where alone the recognition of high genius is desirable."
The poem thus highly praised appeared in the Athenæum of February 15th, 1840, as "The Crowned and Wedded Queen." Marvellous a production as it was, when the circumstances in which it was produced are considered, and abounding though it does in felicitous expressions, it scarcely realises the pre-eminence Miss Mitford claims for it. Grander poems had been produced by women, had been produced by Miss Barrett herself, who certainly surpassed it a few weeks later by her most suggestive lines on "Napoleon's Return," written on the conveyance of Napoleon's body from St. Helena to Paris for reinterment in the French metropolis.
During the whole of the winter of 1839, and the first half of 1840, a constant exchange of correspondence was carried on between the invalid at Torquay and Miss Mitford and other correspondents, in which all the leading literary and other topics of the day were discussed in a way that proves, however prostrated by illness Miss Barrett may have been, her mental powers retained all their vigour, and that she still contrived to keep in touch, either by reading or conversation, with the outer world. But a calamity was impending that almost extinguished the dim spark of vitality left in her, and, as she averred, "gave a nightmare to her life for ever."
The advent of summer and the warm breezes of the south coast had begun to effect some improvement in her constitution, and to cause her to regard the future somewhat hopefully. She had been nursed through the cold months with the utmost care and affection; of those devoting themselves to her, both in body and mind, none was more unwearied in attention and self-sacrificing for her sake than her eldest brother, Edward. Next to her father he was first in her heart and mind, and her affection for him was fully reciprocated. He seems to have been an amiable and admired young man, known and liked amongst the visitors and residents at Torquay. He joined in the general amusements of the place as often as he could leave his sister's couch, and had formed acquaintance with other young men of his own position in life at Torquay.
July came. One Saturday, it was the 11th, Edward Barrett arranged to go for a sail with two companions; they were Charles Vanneck, the only son of the Honourable Mrs. Gerard Vanneck, a young man in his twenty-first year, and Captain Carlyle Clarke, nick-named "Lion Clarke," on account of a narrow escape he had from the clutches of a lion he killed in Bengal. The three hired the Belle Sauvage, a small pleasure yacht noted for its great speed, and as winner of a large number of prize cups. They took with them an experienced pilot named White, and started for a few hours' trip, intending only to go as far as Teignmouth.
Saturday passed, and the boat did not return; Mr. Barrett, Senior, was not at Torquay, and Miss Barrett had to endure the agony of uncertainty and suspense uncheered by her father's presence. Sunday came and the boat did not return. The dreary agonizing hours passed and no sign of the pleasure party. At last a rumour reached Torquay, and found its way to the heartsick watchers, that a boat corresponding in appearance with the missing one had been seen to sink off Teignmouth. The terrifying intelligence wanted confirmation; and as there still remained a possibility that the young men might have gone on to Exmouth, searchers were sent to that place, as well as along the coast, to make inquiries. Their efforts were vain; nothing could be heard of the lost ones. At last full evidence of the worst was obtained; two boatmen, of Exmouth, deposed that they saw a yacht with four men on board sink off Teignmouth. In consequence of this information two boats, well manned and armed with grapnels and other appliances, were despatched to the spot where the yacht was supposed to have gone down, to search for the bodies.
How can the horror and misery of this time be told. The dreadful suspense, which all the grief of the terrible truth could scarcely intensify. A widowed mother mourning for her only son; a father and brother for a brother and son, who had survived the dangers of war and deadly climes only to sink into the deep almost in sight of home; and a sister, lying helpless on a sick bed, wasting vain tears for the beloved companion of her life, who was gone for ever, whose corse even could not be wept over, and who, horror of horrors! but for the affection which had brought him to her side, might still have been alive and happy! Thus thought Miss Barrett, as she lay utterly prostrated with anguish and suspense; thus she argued in the midst of her terrible agony.
Mr. Barrett arrived, but his arrival seemed of little value now. In conjunction with the other bereaved persons he offered heavy rewards for recovery of the bodies, but the days passed and no vestige could be obtained. At last, on the 18th instant, it was announced that Captain Clarke's body had been picked up by the trawler, about four miles from Dartmouth. and although several days had elapsed since the accident, it was not in the least disfigured, and in the button-hole of his coat were still the flowers which he had worn when he started on the pleasure trip. The days still came and went, and again the sea cast forth its dead. It was not until the 4th of August that the body of Edward Barrett was discovered; it had been seen floating near the Great Rock, Torbay, and was picked up by a boatman and taken ashore. Mr. Barrett identified his son's body, a Coroner's verdict of "Accidentally Drowned" was returned, and the remains, together with those of Captain Clarke, and subsequently of William White, the pilot, were interred in the parish church of Tormohun, Torquay. Whether Charles Vanneck's body was ever found is doubtful.
The suspense was over, and "the sharp reality now must act its part." Nor money, nor genius, nor love were now of any avail, and the poor broken-hearted invalid, lying half senseless on her couch, had neither mind nor hearing for aught save the cruel sea beating upon the shore, and sounding, as she afterwards said, like nothing but a dirge for the untimely dead. "The sound of the waves rang in her ears like the moans of one dying."
For months Elizabeth Barrett hovered between life and death: "I being weak," as she said, "was struck down as by a bodily blow in a moment, without having time for tears." Everything that love and wealth could do for her was done, and time and nature both soothed and strengthened her in her affliction. Some slight reflex of her feelings may be gained from a perusal of her poem "De Profundis," published only after death had claimed her also. The earlier stanzas express the depth of her despair when she was first enabled to comprehend the certainty of her loss. After the full heart has given vent to its wild passionate cry of utter hopelessness a ray of light breaks in, the consolation of religion is sought and found, and the weary heart, as expressed in the remainder of the poem, is soothed to rest by faith in Divine goodness.
During these months of misery, whilst the invalid's life was hanging by a thread, there appeared the most influential notice of her poetic efforts that had as yet been published. In the September number of the Quarterly Review a criticism was given of the various volumes of poetry she owned. The reviewer was not altogether unjust nor unappreciative, although Miss Barrett subsequently took an opportunity of controverting his animadversions upon some of her mannerisms. Attention was called to her extraordinary acquaintance with ancient classic literature, as also to the daring nature of her themes. Her beautiful lines on "Cowper's Grave" were selected for especial commendation, and an extract from "Isobel's Child," a poem the reviewer did not appear to recognise the full value of, was given as a "specimen of her general manner and power."
The Seraphim was noticed by the reviewer as a subject "Miss Barrett would not have attempted, if she had more seriously considered its absolute unapproachableness," whilst her translation of Prometheus, although pronounced "a remarkable performance for a young lady," was deemed uncouth, unfaithful to the original, and devoid of fire. Altogether the review was calculated to improve Miss Barrett's position in the world of letters, classing her, as it did, among "modern English poetesses," and manifestly to the disadvantage of those ladies whose names and works were coupled with hers. It was this classification, however, that annoyed our poetess more than aught else in the review.
Towards the end of November Miss Mitford was enabled to report that her friend was somewhat better, but I fear, she added, "we dare not expect more than a few months of lingering life." But the vital spark did not flutter out, and the improvement in the invalid's condition, if slow, was, with some fluctuations, continuous. "I did not think," she wrote some few months later, "to be better any more, but I have quite rallied now, except as to strength, and they say that on essential points I shall not suffer permanently—and this is a comfort to poor papa." To another correspondent Miss Barrett wrote, as an excuse for not following up some literary labour:—
No—no; the headache is no excuse. I have not frequent headaches, and if just now I am rather more feverish and uncomfortable than usual, the cause is in the dreadful weather—the snow and east wind. . . . These extreme causes do, however, affect me as little, even less, my physician says, than might have been feared; and I think steadily—hope steadily—for London at the end of May, so to attain a removal from this place, which has been so eminently fatal to my happiness.
The only gladness associated with the banishment here has been your offered sympathy and friendship. Otherwise, bitterness has dropped on bitterness like the snows more than I can tell, and independent of that last most overwhelming affliction of my life, from the edge of the chasm of which I may struggle, but never can escape.
Writing on the 17th of May 1841, to Richard H. Horne, the author of Orion and Cosmo de' Medici, with whom she had already been a correspondent for some time past, she says:—
I shall be more at ease when I have thanked you, dear Mr. Horne, for your assurance of sympathy, which, in its feeling and considerate expression a few days since, touched me so nearly and deeply. Without it I should have written when I was able—I mean physically able—for in the exhaustion consequent upon fever, I have been too weak to hold a pen. As to reluctancy of feeling, believe me that I must change more than illness or grief can change me, before it becomes a painful effort to communicate with one so very kind as you have been to me. . . . Besides the appreciated sympathy, I have to acknowledge four proofs of your remembrance, the seals of which lay unbroken for a fortnight or more after their removal here. . . . You have been in the fields—I know by the flowers—and found there, I suppose, between the flowers and the life and dear Mrs. Orme, that pleasant dream (for me!) about my going to London at Easter. I never dreamt it. And while you wrote, what a mournful contrary was going on here! It was a heavy blow (may God keep you from such!). I knew you would be sorry for me when you heard.
A few days later she resumed her correspondence with Horne, chiefly with respect to his fine drama of Gregory the Seventh, to which was prefixed an "Essay on Tragic Influence":—
I have read but little lately, and not at all until very lately; but two or three days ago papa held up Gregory before my eyes as something sure to bring pleasure into them. "Ah! I knew that would move you." After all, I have scarcely been long enough face to face with him to apprehend the full grandeur of his countenance. There are very grand things, and expounded in your characteristic massiveness of diction. But it does so far appear to me that for the tragic heights, and for that passionate singleness of purpose in which you surpass the poets of our time, we shall revert to Cosmo and Marlowe. Well, it may be very wrong—I must think over my thoughts. And at any rate the "Essay on Tragic Influence" is full of noble philosophy and poetry—perhaps the highest—and absolutely independent, in its own essence, of stages; which involve, to my mind, little more than its translation into a grosser form, in order to its apprehension by the vulgar. What Macready can touch Lear? In brief, if the union between tragedy and the gaslights be less incongruous and absurd than the union between Church and State, is it less desecrative of the Divine theory? In the clashing of my No against your Yes, I must write good-bye.
Soon afterwards Miss Barrett commenced a series of most interesting letters to Horne in connection with dramatic subjects. He had solicited her signature for a memorial to Parliament, petitioning the abolition of the theatrical monopoly, and praying that "every theatre should be permitted to enact the best dramas it could obtain." In the most delicate yet determined way possible, the invalid recluse declined to comply with the request. "I tremble to do it," she says; "take a long breath before I begin, and then beg you to excuse me about the signature." Alluding to his belief that as soon as the monopoly was abolished a career of glory would commence at once for the best drama and the best dramatists, and that the public would immediately flock to those houses where good plays and good actors only were to be seen, Miss Barrett says, "As to the petition . . . you are sure to gain the immediate object, and you ought to do so, even although the ultimate object remain as far off as ever, and more evidently far. There is a deeper evil than licences or the want of licences—the base and blind public taste. Multiply your theatres and licence everyone. Do it to-day, and the day after to-morrow (you may have one night) there will come Mr. Bunn, and turn out you and Shakespeare with a great roar of lions. Well! we shall see."
Reverting to more personal matters, this determined and not to be persuaded invalid is found once more looking with eager eyes to her home in the distant metropolis. "When do you go to Italy?" she asks; "for me, I can't answer. I am longing to go to London, and hoping to the last. For the present—certainly the window has been opened twice, an inch—but I can't be lifted even to the sofa without fainting. And my physician shakes his head, or changes the conversation, which is worse, whenever London is mentioned. But I do grow stronger; and if it become possible I shall go—will go! That sounds better, doesn't it? Putting it off to another summer is like a 'never.'"
In her next letter, early in June, she informs Horne that she is
Revived just now—pleased, anxious, excited altogether, in the hope of touching at last upon my last days at this place. I have been up, and bore it excellently—up an hour at a time, without fainting, and on several days without injury; and now am looking forward to the journey. My physician has been open with me, and is of opinion that there is a good deal of risk to be run in attempting it. But my mind is made up to go; and if the power remains to me I will go. To be at home, and relieved from the sense of doing evil where I would soonest bring a blessing—of breaking up poor papa's domestic peace into fragments by keeping my sisters here (and he won't let them leave me)—would urge me into any possible "risk"—to say nothing of the continual repulsion, night and day, of the sights and sounds of this dreary place. There will be no opposition. So papa promised me at the beginning of last winter that I should go when it became "possible." Then Dr. Scully did not talk of "risk," but of certain consequences. He said I should die on the road. I know how to understand the change of phrase. There is only a "risk" now—and the journey is "possible." So I go.
We are to have one of the patent carriages, with a thousand springs, from London, and I am afraid of nothing. I shall set out, I hope, in a fortnight. Ah! but not directly for London. There is to be some intermediate place where we all must meet, papa says, and stay for a month or two before the final settlement in Wimpole Street—and he names "Clifton," and I pray for the neighbourhood of London, because I look far (too far, perhaps, for me), and fear being left an exile again at those Hot Wells during the winter. I don't know what "the finality measure" may be. The only thing fixed is a journey from hence.
Considering the condition Miss Barrett was in, and that she had even to recline on her back whilst writing, it is marvellous that she was enabled to write the quantity, apart from the quality, of matter that she did at this time. Besides her lengthy communications to Horne, Miss Mitford, and others, she was busy assisting the first-named correspondent in sketching out and writing a lyrical drama.
Psyche Apocalypté, the name finally adopted, by the two poets as the title of their joint drama, was to be modelled on "Greek instead of modern tragedy." The correspondence which the suggestions and dual labour on this drama gave rise to was most voluminous, and although the work was never completed, there was quite enough of it put together to justify Horne publishing the fair-sized pamphlet on it he eventually did.
Miss Barrett's original conception of the work is shadowed forth in these words:—
My idea, the terror attending spiritual consciousness—the man's soul to the man—is something which has not, I think, been worked hitherto, and seems to admit of a certain grandeur and wildness in the execution. The awe of this soul-consciousness breaking into occasional lurid heats through the chasm of our conventionalities has struck me, in my own self-observation, as a mystery of nature very grand in itself, and is quite a distinct mystery from conscience. Conscience has to do with action (every thought being spiritual action), and not with abstract existence. There are moments when we are startled at the footsteps of our own being, more than at the thunders of God.
Horne accepted this psychological problem as the basis for the drama, taking good care, however, in his own practical way, to make it more comprehensible, and humanising it by a fairly readable plot and the introduction of numerous supernumerary personages, human and otherwise. Much of it was already written when Miss Barrett's removal from Torquay and journey to London caused a lengthy interregnum in the work, and subsequent events intervened to prevent its continuation and completion.
In her charming literary correspondence with Horne Miss Barrett furnishes many interesting little pieccs of personal history. She does not refrain from jesting about her own invalided condition, and, in the communication just cited from, says: "How you would smile sarcasms and epigrams out of the 'hood' if you could see from it what I have been doing, or rather suffering, lately! Having my picture taken by a lady miniature-painter, who wandered here to put an old view of mine to proof. For it wasn't 'the ruling passion strong in death,' 'though by your smiling you may seem to say so,' but a sacrifice to papa."
A month later, and she, still a prisoned sprite, writes:—
What made me write was, indeed, impatience—there is no denying it—only not about the drama. Do you know what it is to be shut up in a room by oneself, to multiply one's thoughts by one's thoughts—how hard it is to know what "one's thought is like"—how it grows and grows, and spreads and spreads, and ends in taking some super-natural colour—just like mustard and cress sown on flannel in a dark closet? . . . I was very sorry about the cough. Do not neglect it, lost it end as mine did; for a common cough striking on an insubstantial frame began my bodily troubles; and I know well what that suffering is, though nearly quite free from it now.
The fortnight within which the invalid was to risk a remove came and went, and still her letters bear the post-mark of hated Torquay. On the 4th August she writes:—"I am gasping still for permission to move too; but papa has gone suddenly into Herefordshire, and I am almost sure not to hear for a week. Something, however, must soon be determined; and in the meantime, being tied hand and foot, and gagged, I am wonderfully patient." Ten days later and still the Barretts did not risk removal. On the 14th Elizabeth wrote a characteristic letter to Horne, wherein was much playful badinage, and the remark, in reference to her childish epic—"Ah! when I was ten years old, I beat you all—you and Napoleon and all—in ambition; but now I only want to get home."
"I only want to get home!" such had been the burden of Elizabeth Barrett's wishes from month to month; and at last, late in the summer of 1841, she was conveyed to her father's residence in Wimpole Street in safety. All that is known of the journey is told by Miss Mitford—a very imaginative person, be it remembered, in some things. "My beloved Miss Barrett," she says, "accomplished the journey by stages of twenty-five miles a-day in one of the invalide carriages, where the bed is drawn out like a drawer from a table." She had not been home many days before Miss Mitford travelled up to London to visit her, and remarks—"I found her better than I dared to hope."