|Transcript or Index||Berners Street. March 29 1823|
My Dear Sir
I have long anxiously wished for the moment when returning strength might in some degree restore to me the use of my pen, that I might be able to address this letter to you, as it is my hope that it may save us both much agitating conversation. Our rambling chat on Friday last, strayed two or three times to subjects which I knew must be felt by both in a manner that ill accorded with the light tone in which we were handling them, but I was determined that they should not be touched upon in a more serious manner until I had found the opportunity of submitting my thoughts and feelings to your calm, and I will hope, your candid consideration.
When I requested my sister to mention to you that I expected the full indulgence of my literary pursuits, both as to writing or publication, I certainly considered that I was asking no favour, claiming no concession. I merely named it to her <as she was leaving the room,> because I am always anxious to prevent the possibility of any misunderstanding, and an expression which dropped from you the day before I went to Mortlake, had afterwards returned upon my mind with a doubt of its import. My tastes and habits had been fully known to you from the first moment of our acquaintance, and I could not have supposed, if you in anyway objected to them, <that> you, as a man of sense and reflexion, could for a moment have allowed yourself to think of me. I may say I could not have supposed that any man, to whom they were in the slightest degree disagreeable, would ever have thought of addressing me, but independent of this I had considered the matter as fully understood between us. When you first named your Profession to me, as a possible reason of objection on my part, I answered that I had in return your indulgence to claim for my literary pursuits, and I begged you then to consider well whether their pursuit in any way were likely to be unpleasant to you. Your reply at that moment was anything but discouraging. [next line scribbled out] But I have frequently spoken on the subject since; when I have talked to you of the work to which I considered myself pledged respecting my father, and of my Alfred, the projected companion of Coeur de Lion. You have surely not forgotten <the interest which you then apparently took in the subject> the enquiries which you made of me respecting the sources whence I meant to derive my information as to those remote times, and our digression on the Scandinavian Mythology, and the use of Machinery in general. From all this I should undoubtedly have concluded, that if on your return from a Polar, or any other Expedition, I had presented to you one or both of these works, fresh from the Printer and the Binder, I should have brought you an acceptable offering – Imagine then, but I believe you will not imagine, the pain which your answer gave me. That you had an objection almost amounting to horror to anything like publication in any one connected with you – that it was possible your feelings might alter, but you could pledge yourself to nothing. I have seldom received so severe a shock. I once said to you that I believed the possession of poetic talents seldom contributed to the happiness of a female. That I spoke truth the necessity of my writing this letter is sufficient evidence; but it was the pleasure of Heaven to bestow those talents on me, and it was my father’s pride to cultivate them to the utmost of his power. I should therefore be guilty of a double dereliction of duty in abandoning their exercise. They were indeed the pride and the pleasure of both my parents and permitted by their kindness to indulge the native bent of my disposition, for their sake it became my duty and my delight to endeavour that my efforts should not be unworthy of the encouragement <shown to them>. I have seldom read a new poem to them without seeing the tear of affectionate joy in the eyes of both. Indeed, as one of my friends lately observed to me, <my poor father’s> soul seemed wrapped up in my literary fame. It was his constant study to procure me whatever books he thought might be useful to me or the acquaintance of any one of distinguished talent from whose conversation I might derive either pleasure or improvement. In short to give to my talents all the publicity possible – I beg to add, consistently with the modest reserve of an English Maiden, which I must <also> beg you to believe he would have guarded as jealously as you could do that of a sister or a wife. Few men perhaps were ever more cautiously particular.
That he far overrated me I well knew; and what I have written above has been set down in the spirit of regret and not of vanity. Vain I may be, upon many points, but I think I should never be so of my poetic powers. I consider them rather as a dangerous gift, for the neglect or the abuse of which I shall be equally and severely accountable; but this is wandering from my subject. What I meant to say was, that since my poor father’s death almost every day has given me fresh proof of his fond partiality, for I have scarcely opened a drawer that has not borne witness to the care with which he had treasured every scrap that spoke in commendation of his little favourite. That all this was gone for ever I well knew. I never expected again to meet with anyone so anxiously alive to all my feelings and wishes, or so much interested in my darling pursuits. Nor indeed could I desire it. I have hitherto always had the pleasing consciousness, that dear as they were, I had never allowed them to usurp the place of duties, or to become more than the amusement which they ought to be. But it is possible that they might by degrees have absorbed me too much and that is a danger which I would endeavour to guard myself from as carefully as from that of their abandonment. But thus brought up, thus indulged, thus spoiled if you will, judge what must have been my surprise and grief to find that the pursuits which had lent wings to many an hour of happiness, and supported me through many a day of affliction; which had been so watchfully cherished by those I best loved; were looked upon even with horror by the person with whom I expected to pass the rest of my life. Just at the moment too when my regret for my parents was beginning to soften, when I was beginning to think that the future might again have something to interest me, and my feelings again find a home. They came upon me with double force.
That your prejudices <for so I must be permitted to call them,> are of recent origin I cannot doubt; the tone and character of the letters written to myself and father on your homeward voyage are sufficient evidence that they did not then exist; nay, I will not for an instant allow myself to suppose that you would have acted so unwisely towards yourself as to select for your companion the only woman, perhaps in your whole acquaintance, whose tastes and habits were obnoxious to your dislike; or so unfairly by me, as not at once to have intimated your hope and request that I would alter them. But why, when you felt such objections rising in your mind, or when they may have been suggested to you by those with whom you conversed, why did you not come and frankly state them to me at once that they might immediately be either yielded to or confuted. To speak openly, I consider them merely the effect of a morbid state of feeling, arising from the manner in which your mind has been harassed and overwrought by application to your work, and as such, I conjure you, for your own sake as well as mine, to dismiss them as speedily as possible.
I am confirmed in my conjecture by perceiving that every thing which bears the least affinity to Literature now seems almost equally exposed to your anathemas. My poor Attic Chest – Alas! it has always been one of my daydreams that at some future period it should be revived – but you would not even have condescended to attend one of its meetings. What sort of reception can I then expect you will hereafter give to my friends, many of whom belonged to its circle, and of whom few are untainted by this same odious vice of Literature. I fear the same frank and cordial welcome which I should always consider due from me to any esteemed friend of yours. But such certainly was not the language which you held some few months ago. You then wished me to think that my studies would not only be encouraged but shared. I did not believe one half you said for I fancied I knew you better than you at that moment knew yourself, but [line scribbled out] at any rate I may as well ask “Which is the counterfeit, and which the true man?”
Should we be united, one of the first speeches <I shall hear on all sides> will be “But I hope your Muse does not mean to be idle”. Would you have me say that with my own will I would never abandon her, but you had restrained our intercourse? You may reply that such an answer would not be necessary to all. It might not, but I am so much the Child of Truth that my very efforts at concealment would betray me. Or should it happen while you were abroad that Mr Whittaker, in calling on me to superintend a fresh Edition of Coeur de Lion, should say that he thought it then a favourable opportunity for the publication of the volume of poems which I long ago told him were ready whenever he might think it a favourable time for their appearance. Would you have me tell him that my husband had no longer left me the liberty of publishing them. Surely you could not wish me so degraded.
One word too on the subject of your Expedition. Whatever your objections may be, and I pretend not to guess them, you must feel that nothing which I might publish could possibly give you one tenth part of the uneasiness which that Expedition must necessarily cost me – but I know that you ought to undertake it, and therefore you should find me the last person in the world that would endeavour to detain you. It is indeed my most earnest hope that you would never suffer a consideration for me to influence your mind for a moment on any such occasion; but why should you wish to deprive me of the only employment that could really interest me in your absence.
Happily the choice is not left to me, and I cannot if I would, allow my own heart to deceive one. My father’s wish repeatedly intimated, makes the publication of some of his papers not merely an act of filial regard, but of imperative duty, and if the price be the happiness of all my future life I must perform it. And even with regard to the farther cultivation of the tastes he encouraged, could I consent to relinquish them I should never know a moment’s ease. His offended spirit would seem to be for ever at my side, reproaching me as an alien for thus abandoning what it had cost him so many years of toil and anxiety to procure me the means of indulging. I might not speak, but you would soon scarcely recognize your dull & joyless companion.
And on what plea should you ask me to renounce them or to descend from the place which I hold in society? You will surely allow that it has been honourably gained. Among my friends are many of whose very names I am proud, and I can boldly say that I possess their respect as much as either their esteem or regard. You say that all desire of literary fame is vanity, simply because your own ambition lies in another channel; but if when your Book is fairly before the public you do not take somewhat of a parent’s interest in its fate I shall not think the better of you for your apathy. That fame in the way of your profession is not indifferent to you I will venture to pronounce. For instance, were you in command of a well appointed fleet, you would certainly wish to encounter the enemy, to obtain a signal victory, & to place your own name with those of Nelson & Duncan & Howe & Rodney etc etc etc. Yet your own duty would be as conscientiously performed if the first ball that was fired carried your head with it, and your country’s <interests> much promoted if your successor achieved the victory – nay, both objects would be as effectually attained, if, while you were idly gazing on a spotless sea, some brother officer, the Commander of a rival fleet should obtain the success I have supposed yours. I know you would have the generosity to rejoice in his good fortune, but if you did not envy it, you are not worth a pin.
When you return from the Pole you will have another Book to write, and you will expect my assistance. Believe me that never was any labour more zealously and cheerfully undertaken for another that that would be for you; but surely you would not selfishly take advantage of my facility in composition for your ease, and restrain me in its exercise for my own relaxation.
I am sorry to perceive that I have inflicted a long letter upon you, but I am yet unequal to writing five minutes together, and by losing the connection I run into length. The essence of our argument after all lies in a nutshell. For some months past I have endeavoured that you should see my character, good or bad, as unreservedly as possible. If you have liked what I really am, if a sincere attachment to yourself, and an earnest wish to render towards you the attention and the duty of an affectionate wife, be sufficient to make you happy, I am willing to be yours. But you must not expect me to change my nature. I am seven and twenty, an age after which woman alters little, and I, who have been almost uncontrolled mistress of a family for half that period, am even older than my years – If on the contrary you find that your imagination has sketched a false portrait of me, that your feelings are changed, or, no matter what the cause, that you have taken a rash & inconsiderate step, do not hesitate to tell me so.
One thing I had forgotten. If you feel such disgust at the idea of a woman’s appearing in any way before the public, would even my promise to write no more be sufficient to satisfy your feelings. The Rubicon was past when the Veils were published, and “all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”. The works already printed much attach to me for ever, and should I never either write or print another line you would equally have married “Miss Porden, the Authoress “. Nor would the altered name be less apparent on a fresh Edition of Coeur de Lion than on the title page of a new work. Much of what I have written I believe has been already said to you: but the memory or a delegate is always doubtful, and a single word unwittingly altered may change the tone of a whole sentence one wrong impression you seem to have received, and I therefore beg to assure you that though much of this letter may have been suggested by very painful feelings, not one syllable has been penned in aught of unkindness; or with any but the most anxious wish that it may smooth the only difficulty which I believe exists between us. That any should have arisen I deeply deplore, and that it should have arisen from this cause is a source of double pain to me. You are now fully in possession of my feelings on the subject, and I submit them, as I said in the commencement, to your calm consideration. To have every doubt removed, and every arrangement made as far as present circumstances permit, cannot be more than your wish than it is that of
yours most affectionately and faithfully
Eleanor Anne Porden
I had written to the last paragraph when you came in last night and on reading over what I have said I find that our conversation then would have saved me half my week’s hard labour, <but> I am really unequal to any attempt at copying or shortening it.