Saturday, March 8, 2008

mesmerism and mysticism

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett to Robert Browning

Monday.[June 30, 1845.]

I send back the prize poems which have been kept far too long even if I do not make excuses for the keeping—but our sins are not always to be measured by our repentance for them. Then I am well enough this morning to have thought of going out till they told me it was not at all a right day for it ... too windy ... soft and delightful as the air seems to be—particularly after yesterday, when we had some winter back again in an episode. And the roses do not die; which is quite magnanimous of them considering their reverses; and their buds are coming out in most exemplary resignation—like birds singing in a cage. Now that the windows may be open, the flowers take heart to live a little in this room.

And think of my forgetting to tell you on Saturday that I had known of a letter being received by somebody from Miss Martineau, who is at Ambleside at this time and so entranced with the lakes and mountains as to be dreaming of taking or making a house among them, to live in for the rest of her life. Mrs. Trollope, you may have heard, had something of the same nympholepsy—no, her daughter was 'settled' in the neighbourhood—that is the more likely reason for Mrs. Trollope! and the spirits of the hills conspired against her the first winter and almost slew her with a fog and drove her away to your Italy where the Oreadocracy has gentler manners. And Miss Martineau is practising mesmerism and miracles on all sides she says, and counts on Archbishop Whately as a new adherent. I even fancy that he has been to see her in the character of a convert. All this from Mr. Kenyon.

There's a strange wild book called the Autobiography of Heinrich Stilling ... one of those true devout deep-hearted Germans who believe everything, and so are nearer the truth, I am sure, than the wise who believe nothing; but rather over-German sometimes, and redolent of sauerkraut—and he gives a tradition ... somewhere between mesmerism and mysticism, ... of a little spirit with gold shoebuckles, who was his familiar spirit and appeared only in the sunshine I think ... mottling it over with its feet, perhaps, as a child might snow. Take away the shoebuckles and I believe in the little spirit—don't you? But these English mesmerists make the shoebuckles quite conspicuous and insist on them broadly; and the Archbishops Whately may be drawn by them (who can tell?) more than by the little spirit itself. How is your head to-day? now really, and nothing extenuating? I will not ask of poems, till the 'quite well' is authentic. May God bless you always! my dear friend!
After all the book must go another day. I live in chaos do you know? and I am too hurried at this moment ... yes it is here.

-from The Life of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett 1845-1846 (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1900) vol. 1.

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