Mary Eliza Minto (afterwards Ruxton, 1822?–97)
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 4, 327–328.
Her extant correspondence with EBB runs from 1839 to 1856. From this correspondence and secondary documents, one knows that Mary Minto and her family were acquainted with the Moulton-Barretts and their circle as early as 1837. In particular, Mary was a friend of Ann Eliza Moulton-Barrett, widow of EBB’s uncle Sam (1787–1837), and she served as a bridesmaid when Ann Eliza remarried in 1840. Miss Minto was in Paris when EBB wrote to her from Torquay in January 1839 (letter 682). This letter accompanied one from EBB’s sister Henrietta (SD979), who mentioned two of the Moulton-Barrett brothers: “Bro remains with us, indeed he is quite essential to us—perhaps you will be inclined to disbelieve this, for I know he is not your favorite– Georgie was very pleased to hear that you are going on with your singing …” In a letter to Mary Russell Mitford dated 3 August 1843, EBB referred to Miss Minto as “a very accomplished & intelligent young woman.” EBB wrote too of Mary’s interest in mesmerism—also known at that time as “magnetism.” “Mary Minto … thinks of nothing but Mesmer,” she wrote to Miss Mitford on 12? August 1843. EBB herself was curious about mesmerism but not enthusiastic, and she did not plunge into the subject in her known letters to Miss Minto. As reported in a letter to Miss Mitford on 22? November 1843, the persistently-ailing EBB resisted an effort by Mary to obtain a lock of her hair so that “a chief Rabbi of the Magnetisers in Paris” could “declare straightway the nature of & remedy for my complaint.” Most of EBB’s letters to Mary include greetings to Mrs. Minto, the recipient’s mother, and various instances of contact between the Minto and Moulton-Barrett families can be cited. EBB, writing to her brother George on 1 August 1843, mentioned a possible visit by their brother Henry to Mrs. Minto in Dover. On 3 April 1844 EBB told George that the “Bells & Mintos are coming here [50 Wimpole Street] today, either to dinner or to tea.” On 4 August of the same year she reported to George: “Mr. Minto has sailed for the West Indies,—& Mary & her mother for Germany.” A sketchbook that belonged to EBB’s brother Alfred (Reconstruction, H100) contains a sketch inscribed: “Mary Minto Nov 15 1843.” On 30 June 1846 EBB, who was within a few months of fleeing to Italy with RB, asked Miss Minto about climatic conditions there, especially in La Cava and Salerno. Miss Minto apparently forwarded the query to another acquaintance, who provided a rather dismal response. This answer was relayed to EBB. She passed it along to RB on 9 July with accompanying comments which raise doubts about the closeness of her relationship with Mary Minto—though allowance must be made for her unsettled state of mind at the time. She wrote: “I feel disappointed.... I dont at all see why we should receive the responses of this friend of my friend who is not so very much my friend, as if they were oracular & final” [our italics]. On 21 May 1852 EBB wrote from Paris to Miss Minto, who was in London and was soon to be married. She included comments about spiritualism, a subject that was starting to interest her, and presumably Mary too. By 10 June of the same year EBB had learned that the future husband was a Mr. Ruxton; but on 4 March 1853 she wrote to Henrietta: “I wonder if anybody has heard of Mary Minto .. once so called .. I forget her present name at this moment.” The editor of B-GB wrote in 1958 that at this point “Mary fades tantalizingly from the picture” (p. 110). There are, nevertheless, letters received by her as Mrs. Ruxton from EBB in 1856, when both women were in London. In them, EBB gives evidence of their mutual interest in the philosopher Swedenborg, and refers cordially to Mary’s husband and children.