Lady Margaret Cocks

Lady Margaret Maria Cocks (1792–1849)

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 2, 341–342.

Born at Reigate, she was the daughter of John Somers Cocks (1760–1841), 1st Earl Somers, and Margaret, Countess Somers (d. 1831). In 1812–15, Lord Somers built Eastnor Castle, an elaborate structure in the style of Edward I, located about three miles from Hope End. The outside of this structure was designed by famed architect Robert Smirke, the interior by Augustus Charles Pugin—who led the nineteenth-century Gothic architecture revival. A member of the House of Lords, Somers was unpopular with a number of neighbours because of his conservative views, particularly on the matter of Parliamentary reform. Eastnor was where EBB often visited Lady Margaret. While quite young, the former was impressed and influenced by Lady Margaret—one of the few people near Hope End with whom she could discuss literature on somewhat equal terms. During an early stay at Eastnor Castle, EBB wrote to her sister Henrietta (letter 271), and said: “As I was beginning to dress, Lady Margaret came in, in equal disattire, to see me,—& spoke in so kind & even affectionate a manner that I could not help being pleased.” In 1832, when the Moulton-Barretts were about to depart from Hope End, Lady Margaret and her sister-in-law Lady Eastnor were the only neighbours known to have called there to take formal leave. Because of a misunderstanding, they were not admitted. EBB at once wrote a note of apology. Eventually and gradually, as EBB continued to develop her own talents and grow in ability, she began to reassess Lady Margaret. After the Moulton-Barretts left Hope End, contact between the two was sporadic. Feelings which EBB began expressing about Lady Margaret were different from those expressed earlier. To Miss Mitford on 19 May 1843 she wrote of “a reserve of manner & character altogether, which was & is repulsive to me.” About a month later, however, as mentioned in a letter to Miss Mitford dated 16 June 1843, EBB reluctantly received Lady Margaret for a visit at the Moulton-Barrett home in Wimpole Street. Lady Margaret made efforts at poetry writing, but EBB did not think highly of the results. Some of her work, nevertheless, was accepted for publication. A letter from EBB to Hugh Stuart Boyd refers to stanzas in The Gleaner called “The Hour of Prayer,” contributed by Lady Margaret (see letter 359 and n. 3). An example of Lady Margaret’s poetry appears in SD818. To RB on 5 May 1846, EBB described her in this way: “A good, worthy person, with a certain cultivation as to languages & literature, but quite manquée on the side of the imagination .. talking of the poets, as a blind woman of colours, calling ‘Pippa Passes’ ‘pretty & odd,’ & writing herself ‘poems’ in heaps of copy books which every now & then she brings to show me … odes to Hope & Patience & all the cardinal virtues, with formulas of ‘Begin my Muse’ in the fashion ended last century. She has helped to applaud & scold me since I could walk & write verses,—& when I was so wicked as to go to dissenting chapels besides, she reproached me with tears in her eyes,—but they were tears of earnest partizanship, & not of affection for me, .. she does not love me after all, nor guess at my heart, and I do not love her, I feel–” Lady Margaret died in 1849, while EBB and RB were in Italy.

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