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The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning   By: (1806-1861)

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[Illustration: Elizabeth Barrett Browning]









The writer of any narrative of Mrs. Browning's life, or the editor of a collection of her letters, is met at the outset of his task by the knowledge that both Mrs. Browning herself and her husband more than, once expressed their strong dislike of any such publicity in regard to matters of a personal and private character affecting themselves. The fact that expressions to this effect are publicly extant is one which has to be faced or evaded; but if it could not be fairly faced, and the apparent difficulty removed, the present volumes would never have seen the light. It would be a poor qualification for the task of preparing a record of Mrs. Browning's life, to be willing therein to do violence to her own expressed wishes and those of her husband. But the expressions to which reference has been made are limited, either formally or by implication, to publications made during their own lifetime. They shrank, as any sensitive person must shrink, from seeing their private lives, their personal characteristics, above all, their sorrows and bereavements, offered to the inspection and criticism of the general public; and it was to such publications that their protests referred. They could not but be aware that the details of their lives would be of interest to the public which read and admired their works, and there is evidence that they recognised that the public has some claims with regard to writers who have appealed to, and partly lived by, its favour. They only claimed that during their own lifetime their feelings should be consulted first; when they should have passed away, the rights of the public would begin.

It is in this spirit that the following collection of Mrs. Browning's letters has now been prepared, in the conviction that the lovers of English literature will be glad to make a closer and more intimate acquaintance with one or, it may truthfully be said, with two of the most interesting literary characters of the Victorian age. It is a selection from a large mass of letters, written at all periods in Mrs. Browning's life, which Mr. Browning, after his wife's death, reclaimed from the friends to whom they had been written, or from their representatives. No doubt, Mr. Browning's primary object was to prevent publications which would have been excessively distressing to his feelings; but the letters, when once thus collected, were not destroyed (as was the case with many of his own letters), but carefully preserved, and so passed into the possession of his son, Mr. R. Barrett Browning, with whose consent they are now published. In this collection are comprised the letters to Miss Browning (the poet's sister, whose consent has also been freely given to the publication), Mr. H.S. Boyd, Mrs. Martin, Miss Mitford, Mrs. Jameson, Mr. John Kenyon, Mr. Chorley, Miss Blagden, Miss Haworth, and Miss Thomson (Madame Emil Braun).[1] To these have been added a number of letters which have been kindly lent by their possessors for the purpose of the present volumes.

[Footnote 1: Mrs. Sutherland Orr had access to these letters for her biography of Robert Browning, and quotes several passages from them. With this exception, none of the letters have been published previously; and the published letters of Miss Barrett to Mr. R.H. Horne have not been drawn upon, except for biographical information.]

The duties of the editor have been mainly those of selection and arrangement. With regard to the former task one word is necessary. It may be thought that the almost entire absence of bitterness (except on certain political topics), of controversy, of personal ill feeling of any kind, is due to editorial excisions. This is not the case... Continue reading book >>

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