Mathilde Blind’s first letter to Lucy Rossetti, 15 July 1875

[NOTE: Oscar Wilde scholar Michael Seeney (From Bow Street to the Ritz: Oscar Wile’s Theatrical Career from 1895 to 1908; More Adey: Oscar Wilde’s Forgotten Friend) has granted me permission to publish this first known letter from Blind to her contemporary and friend Lucy Madox Rossetti (née Brown), part of his personal collection of late-Victorian literary manuscripts. The two women originally met in the late 1860s at the home of Lucy’s father, the painter Ford Madox Brown, whose weekly “at home” events drew some of London’s leading writers and painters. Contemporaries and kindred spirits, they were united by their radicalism: both were bohemians, feminists, and antitheists. Lucy’s 1874 marriage to Blind’s friend William Michael Rossetti brought them even closer–at least until Blind’s increasingly close relationship to Ford Madox Brown created conflict within the Brown family.

Lucy’s 1872 colored chalk portrait of Blind, reproduced at the top of this page, combines the qualities evident in the studio portrait taken around this time—striking beauty, aesthetic dress, intellectual intensity—with a symbolic emphasis on Blind’s vocation. She is seated in an ornate Victorian chair, a quill pen in one hand and several sheets of manuscript filled with her handwriting in the other. Blind’s face, upper body, and hands fill the frame, and Brown’s visual style evokes an almost sculptural sense of monumentality. It is now hanging at Newnham College, Cambridge, where Blind would leave the bulk of her estate to establish the “Mathilde Blind Scholarship,” awarded to novelist Margaret Drabble among many others.

The letter below indicates an intimacy with Lucy that would be tested in the 1880s (see Mathilde Blind: Late-Victorian Culture and the Woman of Letters).]

Eaton House
July 15th [1875]

Dearest Lucy,

           I was glad to get your letter at last and to learn from it that you were all well and enjoying your trips to the various Belgian and Dutch towns. 1 I daresay the Hague is a charming place from all I have heard and read of it. — Now I suppose you are back in Euston Square, and I hope I shall be able to come and see you tomorrow afternoon if it is not too wet. Isn’t this wretched weather?

I read with much interest Mr. Rossetti’s description of ‘La Maison Leys” in the Academy, 2 I was somehow reminded by it of that Flemish house in “La Recherche de L’Inconnu” by Balzac, which stands out in the memory with the vividness of an actual sense impression. 3

Au revoir ma chère amiee

Yours always
Mathilde.

NOTES 

  1. Lucy accompanied her husband William Michael and her parents Ford Madox and Emma Brown to Belgium and Holland earlier in the summer, where among other things they toured the Antwerp home of the painter, printmaker and art collector Baron Henri Leys (1815-1869). WMR briefly describes this trip in Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti, 2 vols. (New York, C. Scribner’s Sons, 1906). v. 2, pp. 432.
  2. La Maison Leys,” Academy (July 10, 1875): 47-8. Rossetti’s essay gives readers a tour of Baron Leys’ home, touching on its architecture, artwork, furnishings, and details concerning the painter’s life there. Rossetti’s description of the house, like Balzac’s description of Balthazar Claës’s Flemish-designed house at Douai in the rue de Paris in his novel La Recherche de L’Absolu (see below), also includes references to the ways in which changes in the weather affected the lighting and mood of its interior spaces.
  3. Presumably Balzac’s novel La Recherche de L’Absolu (translated into English as The Quest of the Absolute, also known by the title The Alkahest; or The House of Claës). The narrative concerns Balthazar Claës’s quest for the alkahest or the philosopher’s stone. Set in the Flemish town of Douai early in the nineteenth century, it contains detailed descriptions of Claës’s home. The novel was published in Balzac’s Études Philosophiques in 1837 and was integrated into the La Comédie Humaine in 1846.

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