[To her Father, on the Spenserian Stanza.]

The Life of Mary Russell Mitford in a Selection from her Letters. 3 Vols [A. G. L'Estrange, ed.]

Mary Russell Mitford

Mary Russell Mitford's letter of 5 May 1811 comments on Sir Walter Scott's difficulties with the Spenserian stanza, which she was likewise using about this time. Whatever her view of Scott's attempts, she was, nonetheless, a great admirer of Thomas Campbell's Spenserian effort, Gertrude of Wyoming (1809).

Mary Russell Mitford to Sir William Elford: "Who is it says that 'when one man is talking to another who does not understand him, and when he that is talking does not understand himself, that is metaphysics'? I never did like dreams, and visions, and allegories, even in Addison and Spencer" 13 February 1815; she also speaks to Elford of the "undivided and enthusiastic admiration ... I feel for the Faerie Queene, you for Tom Jones, and both of us for Pride and Prejudice" 8 June 1819; in L'Estrange, Life of Mary Russell Mitford (1870) 1:233, 307.

Robert Shelton Mackenzie: Of all modern English female writers, Mary Russell Mitford is the most natural, pleasing, and unaffected. She was born in 1786, was educated in London, and removed, with her father to the vicinity of Reading, at the age of fifteen, where she published several volumes of young-lady poetry between 1810 and 1813. Her father, who was extravagant as well as careless in money-matters, ran through a large inherited fortune (increased by a 20,000 prize in the lottery,) and had to break up their expensive establishment and retire to a small cottage in the village of Three Mile Cross, near Reading. Here she wrote some of the prose sketches which afterwards appeared in Our Village, but, Campbell and others rejecting them, had to put them into the Lady's Magazine. When collected, in 1823, their success was immediate and great. A second series appeared in 1826; a third in 1828; a fourth in 1830; and a fifth in 1832. She published a work called Bedford Regis, in 1835; Country Stories in 1837; Recollections of a Literary LIfe in 1850; and Atherton and other stories in 1854. She also wrote several dramatic pieces, of which the following have been successful in representation: — The tragedy of Rienzi, at Drury Lane, and the opera of Sadak and Kalesorde, and the English Opera House. Her father died in 1842. She now resides at Swallowfield, in Berkshire" Noctes Ambrosianae, ed. Mackenzie (1854) 3:169n.

If I may judge from the extracts in the Monthly, Don Roderick is a falling off indeed. Scott certainly does not excel in the Spenser stanza. He has been so long accustomed to make the measure bend to him, that he can not bend to the measure, and a consequence results from it something similar to that in the Taming of the Shrew:

Why, then, thou canst no break her to the lute?

Why, no; for she hath broke the lute on me!

Messieurs the reviewers are unanimous in the recommendation of the Spenser stanza; but, I don't know how it is, whenever any one writes in it there is some unaccountable fault — a coldness, a stiffness, or an obscurity which spoils the sale of the work. It is the bow of Ulysses, and I shall leave the attempt to bolder suitors.

[New York editon (1870); 1:109]