Friday, June 28, 2013

"Hastily executed & altogether immature"

An open book of handwritten verse.One of the joys of working in Rauner is stumbling on something that takes your breath away. That just happened with these two books by Elizabeth Barrett Browning: a first edition of An Essay on Mind (London: James Duncan, 1826) and a first edition of Prometheus Bound (London: A. J. Valpy, 1833). They were both gifts from Elizabeth Barrett Barrett (as she called herself before her marriage) to John Kenyon, a cousin and confidant. It was Kenyon that introduced her to many prominent literati of the time, but who also arranged for her first meeting with Robert Browning. That private meeting in her rooms on Wimpole Street started one of the most famous literary romances of the nineteenth century.

Elizabeth wrote out her autobiographical poem "The House of Clouds" on the back flyleaves of Prometheus Bound and also included the self-effacing inscription:
For this version, which is cold stiff &
meagre, unfaithful to the genius if
servile to the letter of the great poet,
too hastily executed & altogether immature,
the translator's only apology is--
her remorse.

Tipped into the copy of An Essay on Mind is a long note from Barrett to Kenyon commenting on this work, on Prometheus Bound, and thanking him for taking her sister to Strawberry Hill. At some point, John Kenyon gave both books to George Ticknor (Dartmouth 1807) and added a personal inscription to An Essay on Mind:
Printed when the Writer--EB. Barrett was only seventeen--She wishes that it had never been printed--I on the contrary--as her friend and relation--feel proud of it as a work of extraordinary power, and of a promise which she has far more than justified--The smaller poems--some of them--appear to me of exquisite beauty.
An open book of handwritten text.
To see them ask for Ticknor VA B82p and Ticknor PR4190.E8 1826. The letter is separately cataloged but still in the book: Ticknor MS 842231.

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