Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

PAGE 4

Elizabeth B. Browning
by [?]

No doubt John Kenyon sincerely admired Elizabeth Barrett, and prized her work. And while she read his mind a deal more understandingly than he did her poems, she was grateful for his kindly attention and well-meant praise. He set about to get her poems into better magazines and to find better publishers for her work. He was not a gifted poet himself, but to dance attendance on one afforded a gratification to his artistic impulse. He could not write sublime verse himself, but he could tell others how. So Miss Barrett showed her poems to Mr. Kenyon, and Mr. Kenyon advised that the P’s be made bolder and the tails to the Q’s be lengthened. He also bought her a new kind of manuscript paper, over which a quill pen would glide with glee: it was the kind Byron used. But best of all, Mr. Kenyon brought his friends to call on Miss Barrett; and many of these friends were men with good literary instincts. The meeting with these strong minds was no doubt a great help to the little lady, shut up in a big house and living largely in dreams.

Mary Russell Mitford was in London about this time on a little visit, and of course was sought out by John Kenyon, who took her sightseeing. She was fifty years old, too; she spoke of herself as an old maid, but didn’t allow others to do so. Friends always spoke of her as “Little Miss Mitford,” not because she was little, but because she acted so. Among other beautiful sights that Mr. Kenyon wished to show gushing little Mary Mitford was a Miss Barrett who wrote things. So together they called on Miss Barrett.

Little Miss Mitford looked at the pale face in its frame of dark curls, lying back among the pillows. Little Miss Mitford bowed and said it was a fine day; then she went right over and kissed Miss Barrett, and these two women held each other’s hands and talked until Mr. Kenyon twisted nervously and hinted that it was time to go.

Miss Barrett had not been out for two months, but now these two insisted that she should go with them. The carriage was at the door, they would support her very tenderly, Mr. Kenyon himself would drive–so there could be no accidents and they would bring her back the moment she was tired. So they went, did these three, and as Mr. Kenyon himself drove there were no accidents.

I can imagine that James the coachman gave up the reins that day with only an inward protest, and after looking down and smiling reassurance Mr. Kenyon drove slowly towards the Park; little Miss Mitford forgot her promise not to talk incessantly; and the “dainty, white-porcelain lady” brushed back the raven curls from time to time and nodded indulgently.

Not long ago I called at Number Seventy-four Gloucester Place, where the Barretts lived. It is a plain, solid brick house, built just like the ten thousand other brick houses in London where well-to-do tradesmen live. The people who now occupy the house never heard of the Barretts, and surely do not belong to a Browning Club. I was told that if I wanted to know anything about the place I should apply to the “Agent,” whose name is ‘Opkins and whose office is in Clifford Court, off Fleet Street. The house probably has not changed in any degree in these fifty years, since little Miss Mitford on one side and Mr. Kenyon on the other, tenderly helped Miss Barrett down the steps and into the carriage.

I lingered about Gloucester Place for an hour, but finding that I was being furtively shadowed by various servants, and discovering further that a policeman had been summoned to look after my case, I moved on.

That night after the ride, Miss Mitford wrote a letter home and among other things she said: “I called today at a Mr. Barrett’s. The eldest daughter is about twenty-five. She has some spinal affection, but she is a charming, sweet young woman who reads Greek as I do French. She has published some translations from AEschylus and some striking poems. She is a delightful creature, shy, timid and modest.”