About the Edition

An Online Edition of The Brownings’ Correspondence was not a consideration in 1984 when the first two volumes of the Print Edition were published. Fortunately, the text of all the correspondence was captured electronically, and by additional encoding the documents can be offered to readers online. Cross references in the annotations can, for the most part, be located by the search capabilities. At this time, illustrations from the Print Edition are not being displayed.

The Online Edition and the Print Edition share the same goals and history that are set forth in the introduction to volume 1 of The Brownings’ Correspondence, given below.

Introduction

The aim of this edition is twofold: to provide accurate and complete transcriptions of all known letters written by and to Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and to complement them with consistent annotations. When the last volume is completed, we feel that literary historians, critics, biographers—as well as casual readers—will share our firm belief that this collection is one of the most important of all Victorian literary correspondences.

History of the Project

The first public notice of our intention to publish this edition appeared in 1963—Victorian Poetry, 1, 238–239. Much preparatory work had already gone into the project prior to this announcement. The initial interest, nurtured by the late Mary Maxwell Armstrong, Director of the Armstrong Browning Library (1954–59), Baylor University, was focussed on compiling a census of all Browning correspondence. As each letter was located, a file was established to record the following data: 1) date; 2) address from which the letter was written; 3) addressee; 4) source of information; 5) prior publishing history; and 6) location of the original document. Some of this information was gathered as early as 1957.

In only a very few cases were we able to record all this information at one time. Many of the letters were undated; the addressee was often just a “dear friend”; prior publications were often embedded in obscure periodicals or editions of Victorian memoirs; and, because of their commercial value, original manuscripts were constantly changing hands before finally reaching a permanent collection. An earlier publication, Robert Browning: A Bibliography, eds. Broughton, Northup and Pearsall (Ithaca, New York, 1953), had listed almost 1,900 letters written by RB. It was indispensable in the initial stage of our project, but no such tool existed for EBB’s letters.

Much of the concentrated research prior to the 1963 announcement was conducted in London, a few blocks from 50 Wimpole Street in the Borough of St. Marylebone, which has one of the best public libraries in England. Its staff located and requested through inter-library loan over a thousand volumes of Victorian belles-lettres, from which references to the Brownings and their correspondence were gleaned. Hundreds of letters were written to libraries in Great Britain, the United States and the Continent, surveying their holdings for original letters of the poets. At the end of 1960 over 4,000 entries had been logged, and it seemed that the census was nearing completion.

Unexpectedly, an acquaintance was struck with Edward R. Moulton-Barrett, great-grandson of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s brother Alfred. He showed considerable interest in our undertaking and proved invaluable both as a source of unrecorded family history and in securing introductions to various relations whom he thought might possess additional material for our study. Mr. Moulton-Barrett’s own collection of family papers, none of which had ever previously been made available for research or public scrutiny, was so extensive that it took eight months to compile a catalogue of its contents. (These papers are included in the Checklist of Supporting Documents, commencing with Appendix II of this volume.)

With few exceptions, up to this time (1960) the census reflected manuscripts in major public institutions or in well-known private collections. It seemed logical that many letters and items of Browningiana must exist in out-of-the-way locations elsewhere. We were concerned that letters, particularly in the hands of descendants of original recipients, were likely to remain inaccessible and uncatalogued unless a means of publicizing the census could be found, providing an avenue through which owners could contact us.

It was also a concern that no practical steps were being taken by Browning enthusiasts to commemorate the centenary of the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning—29 June 1961. Thus was born a plan to link the need for wider awareness of the census to an exhibition of manuscripts, first editions, portraits and other memorabilia, suitably displayed to commemorate the forthcoming centenary.

The St. Marylebone Central Library readily agreed to sponsor and mount the exhibition. Mr. Moulton-Barrett gave his enthusiastic support by lending material for display. Queen Elizabeth II graciously lent Victoria’s copy of a rare edition of Sonnets from the Portuguese and agreed to our quoting unpublished passages from Victoria’s diary about Aurora Leigh. The British Library lent one of its rarest books, the only known copy remaining in England of EBB’s The Battle of Marathon, and the National Portrait Gallery supplied the Field Talfourd portraits of the poets. From Wellesley College, some of the original love letters were flown to London, to be displayed with the original marriage certificate and wedding rings. The appeal for suitable items to include, made to the general public, met with overwhelming response. Eventually 144 items were selected, a catalogue of which was compiled. The event opened on 31 May 1961. It was well covered by the press, and so well attended that its duration was extended a month past the originally announced closing of 8 July.

The primary benefit ensuing was that it led to numerous new items of Browningiana being reported from throughout the English-speaking world, most in private hands. Indirectly the exhibition led to grants being awarded by the American Philosophical Society and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation which enabled us to record this newly-reported material. The grants also enabled us to spend three months in the stacks of the British Library recording information from the catalogues of auctioneers and book dealers. The funding also allowed us to add to our files a seventh category—photocopies or transcripts of the correspondence, greatly needed to assign chronology to undated letters.

As the material was processed, we became conscious of the significance of the new discoveries, and the implications contained therein. As our files began taking on the character of the nucleus of a much-needed publication of the correspondence, we elected to set aside the census and to concentrate on an edition of the full text of the letters. At the time of our 1963 announcement we had located some 8,000 letters and optimistically estimated that the project would “result in a twenty-volume edition of the letters, taking some fifteen years to complete. The first volume should appear in six to eight years.” We neglected to preface our statement with some form of qualifying phrase as “Subject to funding …”!

With the hope of securing institutional funding for the publication, in 1964 our files and base of operation were relocated from England to the United States. Unfortunately the enormity of the undertaking has proved to be the major obstacle preventing our finding a single underwriting agent. To date it remains primarily sustained by private funds.[1] Our commitment to edit the edition did not lessen, but by necessity it became secondary to our careers in the world of publishing. Our focus on Browning studies was concentrated on smaller projects, as time permitted.

One project involved editing an earlier discovery. On 29 June 1961, exactly one hundred years after the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Kenneth A Moulton-Barrett, on the intercession of his cousin Edward, had produced a manuscript, bound in a paper wrapper and annotated in the hand of Robert Browning “Diary by E.B.B.” In 1965, ownership of the document changed hands when it was acquired by the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library. With permission, we proceeded to edit the manuscript, and it was subsequently published by Ohio University Press in April 1969. Second grants from both the American Philosophical Society and the Guggenheim Foundation followed shortly thereafter.

Soon after the diary’s release we became involved in another Browning project—only this time it was not related to a publication. In October 1969, we received a telephone call from Congressman W.R. Poage’s office, asking if we knew that “the Brownings’ abode in Florence, Italy, was going to be destroyed.” The Armstrong Browning Library, in Poage’s district, had been unsuccessful in an attempt to preserve Casa Guidi, and the Congressman’s staff was notifying anyone with Browning interests. Visiting Italy later in the month, we learned that the rooms had been sold and were to be converted into commercial offices. However, there was a clause in the contract to the effect that, if a plan were forthcoming by midnight, 20 March 1970, by which the Brownings’ rooms could be preserved as a memorial to the poets, the sale could be cancelled. We reported our findings to the New York Browning Society and the group initiated a fund-raising campaign. For the next two years much of our energy was devoted to helping the society successfully raise the sum necessary to preserve Casa Guidi. In 1971, title to the rooms was vested in the Browning Institute, a group with an international membership, formed for this purpose.[2]

The interest caused by the publication of EBB’s diary, and the popular news coverage about the securing of Casa Guidi, resulted in new and startling reports of original correspondence. This was all duly recorded.

By 1973, ten years after our announcement, notable technological advances were being made in computer and word processing equipment. As we worked daily in the printing industry, we foresaw a time when the collected edition would make use of these developments. As an interim aid to Browning scholarship, we reverted to the census project and published The Brownings’ Correspondence: A Checklist (New York and Winfield, Kansas, 1978).

This publication produced various ramifications. Again new letters were uncovered or reported, now recorded in five supplements in Browning Institute Studies. It also succeeded in providing us with full access to several collections where admission had previously been restricted. Most important, however, is the role the Checklist played in a text-editing grant being awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. This 1979–81 grant enabled us to finalize editorial work—taking full advantage of technological advances in word processing and photo-typesetting computers—on the letters covering the years 1809–41.

Now, twenty-one years after our first public notice of this work, we offer the initial volume, confident that the delay, while frustrating, has been beneficial. We are cognizant of the current critical attention being given to the Brownings and the rumblings for new biographers and annotated texts. None can be more aware of the fact that, if such studies are to be anywhere near definitive, they will be gravely hampered until the publication of this edition is well advanced. As we go to press we have records of approximately 10,500 documents, and others continue to appear with regularity. We can foresee that, when complete, this edition may include as many as 12,000 letters and fill forty volumes. Time has taught us to be circumspect in projecting a date for its completion. We simply state that the volumes will be forthcoming and as timely as possible within the framework of available funds. As they do appear, we look forward to their acting as a basis for a balanced evaluation of the Brownings, both in their lives and their works.

A first glance by one who wishes to study the letters of the Brownings would suggest that there is an embarrassment of riches. Starting with S.R. Townshend Mayer’s edition of EBB’s letters to R.H. Horne (1877), numerous volumes of the correspondence have appeared. Other letters are embedded in articles, critical studies, and biographies. The superficial indications of plenitude are, however, misleading. Despite the published volumes of letters to individual correspondents, some of them splendidly edited, there are only three general collections of the correspondence, and each of these suffers from editorial deficiencies. Moreover, fewer than a third of all known letters have appeared in print. Many that were published some time ago suffered extensive excisions to avoid embarrassment to persons still living or unfavourable mention of individuals only recently dead.

One criticism of this project, although uncommon, is that the Brownings are not worthy of a collected edition. From our position, having studied the whole of the correspondence in manuscript, we disagree. While some social notes are of marginal interest, they are by word count a small fraction of the whole output. A large collection of letters is more than the sum of its parts, and it often happens that a trivial note that would hardly seem to merit publication proves to be the missing piece in a jigsaw puzzle which would otherwise defy the most pertinacious scholar.

Other critics state that it is sufficient to have the original letters available in libraries. Even if an individual could travel from Tokyo to Leningrad and master the handwritings, one-third of the manuscripts are in private hands and not automatically accessible. Admittedly, the scope of this publication is staggering. Various alternatives and shortcuts have been suggested from its conception. It is our firm belief that no substitute for a conventionally published edition of the Brownings’ collected correspondence will adequately serve the needs of scholars.

Some readers will undoubtedly question the inclusion of so much juvenilia. While not attempting to endow this material with any significant literary value, we do feel strongly that it all adds to the picture of EBB as the prized daughter of an affluent family, and gives biographical perspective both to her and those around her.

We do not feel it is appropriate to attempt, in this first volume, any critical evaluation of the complete corpus of the Brownings’ correspondence. We do intend to venture such an analysis in the final volume, when readers will have all the letters available in print and will be better able to weigh our comments.

For those readers who are interested in locations of originals or in the past publishing history of the correspondence, or who wish to study the scope of forthcoming volumes, we refer them to our earlier work, The Brownings’ Correspondence: A Checklist, and its ongoing supplements, published periodically in Browning Institute Studies.

To help establish a general overview of this collected edition it is useful to have a basic knowledge of each poet’s early background, to know the development of their general and joint correspondences and have their views on its preservation and publication, all of which has direct bearing on the material available for this edition.

Generally speaking, the preservation of letters is always influenced by the fame of their writer. That we have earlier and more letters of EBB, directed outside the family circle, is largely due to her determination to reach “the beacon of fame” (see p. 352). This influence can also explain why we have later letters written by Tennyson and Landor to their fellow-poets, but lack those penned by EBB’s sisters.

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RB and His Background

Robert Browning was born in Southampton Street, Camberwell, 7 May 1812, the first child of Robert and Sarah Anna (née Wiedeman) Browning. His paternal ancestry was firmly planted in rural Dorset, where his forebears lived at or near Woodyates. Among the first to leave this setting was Robert Browning, grandfather of the poet. With the sponsorship of the local Dorset lord, the fourth Earl of Shaftesbury, he received a clerk’s appointment in the Bank of England in 1769. He was later promoted to First Clerk of the Bank-Stock division, a position he held until his retirement in 1821. In 1778 he married Margaret Tittle and they settled at Battersea where their first child, Robert Browning, father of the poet, was born in 1782. Two years later the family removed to Camberwell. A few years later Reuben, a great-uncle of the poet, also settled in the immediate area and played a key role in the development of his nephew, RB’s father.

RB’s maternal ancestry can be traced to Dundee, Scotland, where his mother, Sarah Anna Wiedeman, was born at Sea-Gate House in 1772. Her grandfather, William Wiedeman, often referred to as German, was probably a Dutchman who had immigrated to Scotland. Prior to 1806, sometime after the death of her father (a mariner, also named William) and possibly that of her mother, she moved to England. She settled with or near her sister, who had married a Camberwell brewer, William Silverthorne.

Browning’s father, after an aborted attempt at working on the West Indies plantations belonging to the Tittle family, took up a career as a clerk at the Bank of England in 1803. His father’s influence no doubt contributed to this appointment, as it did in securing positions in the house of Rothschild for sons William and Reuben. After the death of Margaret Tittle Browning, her husband remarried and eventually settled in Islington, but her son remained at Camberwell where he met and married Sarah Anna Wiedeman, 19 February 1811.

They settled in a modest cottage and proceeded to raise a family, the poet and his sister Sarianna, born 1814. Influenced by his father, Browning developed artistic and literary abilities very early in life. From his mother, he absorbed an interest in music, and was much influenced by her intense religious devotion.

Amidst this scene of domestic tranquillity, with extended family members living near at hand, the emphasis on written communications seems to have been slight. However, letters that were exchanged, from the poet’s earliest days, were carefully preserved. These were found among RB Senior’s effects upon his death in Paris in 1866. They were stored in a trunk, along with copies of Pauline, at 19 Warwick Crescent. RB’s early letters, written during his trip to Russia (1834), and his two visits to Italy (1838 and 1844), are assumed to have been in the collection. Unfortunately, in 1887, RB spent over a week destroying much of the contents of this trunk. As a result, records of RB’s early life are very sparse.

We do know that RB spent very little time away from his family except for his three trips abroad. Prior to his marriage, RB and his family lived in modest circumstances in the London suburbs of either Camberwell or New Cross. These homes were overflowing with his father’s books and graced by his mother’s much-admired gardens. At New Cross, RB’s study, “the little writing room of mine,” was on the top floor, traditionally thought once to have been the secret chapel of a Roman Catholic family.

On the whole, it is apparent that RB’s need and inclination to write letters were limited. Also, one must bear in mind the high cost of postage. Most family members and friends would be addressed in person, and written messages to friends in London were primarily perfunctory. Exceptions are RB’s letters written to male companions abroad: Alfred Domett, Joseph Arnould and Amédée de Ripert-Monclar. Simply put, letter writing was not a major occupation for RB. Only in his letters to EBB did he consistently apply himself to the role of all-encompassing correspondent.

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EBB and Her Background

Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett was born at Coxhoe Hall, County Durham, 6 March 1806, at seven in the evening. The first-born of Edward and Mary (née Graham-Clarke) Moulton-Barrett, she was privately baptized three days later by a family friend, the Rev. William Lewis Rham, Rector of Fersfield in Norfolk. Both her paternal and maternal families enjoyed great prominence and wealth and had a long-established relationship, primarily in matters of business.

The Barrett fortunes reached their apogee during the lifetime of Edward Barrett (1734–98), EBB’s paternal great-grandfather, builder and owner of Cinnamon Hill Estate, Jamaica, whose only surviving child, Elizabeth, had married Charles Moulton. At his expressed desire, his heirs, his daughter’s two surviving children, Edward and Samuel, assumed in 1798 the Barrett name and coat-of-arms, thus creating a new family name—Moulton-Barrett.[3] It was John Graham-Clarke, EBB’s grandfather, who acted as intermediary for Edward of Cinnamon Hill and secured permission from the King for the change (see SD23, Appendix II).

Troubles overtook the Barrett empire not long after the 1798 death of Edward of Cinnamon Hill. These stemmed from family conflicts and from questionable management under absentee ownership, plus such factors as poor crops, low sugar prices, and unsettled world conditions.

Judith Barrett, Edward’s widow, remarried when she was sixty to Michael White Lee, a much younger man. He was “a gay Captain and forsook her.” Judith left Jamaica and settled at Bristol, England. It is unclear whether she settled there to be near her daughter, Elizabeth Moulton, or the daughter went to Bristol to be with her mother, but they resided there and at nearby Clifton until Judith’s death and her burial in Bristol Cathedral, 1804. During the succeeding years Elizabeth Moulton and her companion, Mary Trepsack, moved frequently, taking leases of residences in or near London.

Edward Moulton-Barrett and his brother, both born in Jamaica, had travelled “home” to England in 1792 to commence their formal education. Edward never returned to Jamaica. There is confusion about the brothers’ early years in England. Apparently they did not spend much time with their mother, but were away at school or being tutored privately. Records indicate that they were frequent guests, during holidays, of the Graham-Clarke family at Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Edward attended prestigious Harrow school, but his length of time there is not certain. Family legend has it that he was soon withdrawn by his mother after having been severely beaten by an older boy for letting some toast burn.[4] Records show that he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1801, and studied under a famous tutor, Thomas Jones, known for his strong stand against slavery. One of Edward’s close student associates at Cambridge was John Kenyon, whose linkages with the families of EBB and RB are incredibly complex. Kenyon, like Edward Moulton-Barrett, had been born in Jamaica of a wealthy plantation family. His family was related to the Barretts and had close business ties with RB’s Tittle forebears. Prior to knowing Edward Moulton-Barrett at Cambridge, Kenyon had been a schoolmate of RB’s father at Bristol.

While at Cambridge, Edward declared his love for Mary, eldest daughter of John Graham-Clarke. By all accounts she was a beautiful and gentle girl, being described thus by her mother at this time: “With cheeks whose blushes baffle Flora’s paint. / Sweet girl thus blessed with every Native grace / While days succeeding yet new graces bring / Still may your mind grow lovely as your face / With both may every season prove a spring!” (SD43).

At first there was opposition to the match on the part of Edward’s guardian, James Scarlett, possibly because of his ward’s youth—he was nineteen. But becoming acquainted with Mary, twenty-four, Scarlett eventually gave in. He reportedly said, “I hold out no longer—she is far too good for him.” They were married 14 May 1805.

After a honeymoon in the south of England, Edward took his bride to Coxhoe Hall which he had leased. It was a comfortable carriage drive from his wife’s family home, Kenton Lodge, near Newcastle. Frequent guests at this mansion included members of Mary’s large family, Edward’s mother, his brother Samuel, Mary Trepsack, and numerous cousins from both sides of the family.

Edward Moulton-Barrett did not come of age until 1806, and his brother Samuel not until 1808. Until then, control of their business affairs was in the hands of their guardian James Scarlett, later (1835) first Lord Abinger, considered by many to be the most brilliant lawyer of his time. Born in Jamaica himself, Scarlett went to England for schooling in the year Edward was born (1785). On-site management of his wards’ Jamaican estates had to be left to other persons. Edward’s estates were run by his uncle Robert Moulton, brother of his father, Charles.

Correspondence between Scarlett and Edward indicates great dissatisfaction with Robert Moulton. He was, among other things, apparently seeking to divert some of Edward’s funds and property to Charles Moulton. Management of the estates was eventually transferred to James Scarlett’s brother Philip, but this involved much difficulty. On 13 December 1805, James Scarlett wrote to Edward (SD44) as follows: “My brother is proceeding in Chancery to compel your Uncle to give up the Estates, but all legal measures are slow, whereas force & fraud are prompt & choose their own time.” By the end of 1806, the year in which Edward came of age, James Scarlett was writing to him (SD65) about Philip’s “administration of your Estates as trustee.”

On 1 October 1811 (SD150), James Scarlett sent Edward some interesting and important comments about his past relations with Robert Moulton. Two of his letters to Moulton, written long before, had surfaced, and he was afraid of the impression they might make when and if Edward saw them. He wrote in part: “As R M & I were upon the most intimate terms & as I had at one time as warm an attachment to him as I ever had for any body, I cannot doubt but that there are many things in my letters to him that were never meant for any other eyes and I own I am a good deal surprized that any motive of any kind should induce R M to submit to any other eyes correspondence that was rendered sacred by the friendship & unreserved confidence that existed between us…. The struggle which it cost me to have my opinion shaken about him (and it did cause me more grief than any other event of my life) is a pledge of my sincerity when I say that I should feel the greatest obligation to any one who would convince me that I am now under an error about him & that he still merits all the attachment & devotion which I once felt for him. It will be a painful task to me, but I shall nevertheless if either you or Sam require it, think it my duty to communicate to you the grounds on which my present opinion rests.”

EBB was born as Robert Moulton was being replaced because of the mismanagement of her father’s estates. Edward Moulton-Barrett, greatly in debt “owing to extreme prodigality,”and the generally poor state of West Indies affairs, was forced to enter into an agreement with the London firm of Boddington and Sharpe. They advanced him sums for his personal expenses against future crops. He cut back severely in his own life-style, parting “with many of my horses and their attendants.” He returned or did not take delivery of coaches he had ordered. In denying his father a loan he wrote, “as you know, my grandfather left no provision for wife or younger children nor will they have any thing but what they get from me, you will not blame me for my resolution when I tell you Mary is again in the family way” (SD70).

From references in the correspondence of Edward Moulton-Barrett at this time, we note his interest in the welfare of slaves on his Jamaican plantations. On 4 January 1807 (SD67) he wrote to Philip Scarlett, answering two letters which apparently reported earlier mistreatment of the slaves. He said: “From four preceeding letters of yours I was prepared to hear the poor Negroes had been badly dealth [sic] with; it gives me great concern that any dependants of mind [sic] should suffer any species of cruelty. I now feel happy they are under your Protection, for I am sure they will be well taken care of and made to bear no unnecessary hardship.”

On 1 August 1807 Edward wrote to Philip Scarlett (SD79) as follows, concerning the birth of his first son, Edward, EBB’s beloved Bro: “I have the satisfaction of informing you that I was blessed on the 26th June last with a Son he and his Mother are doing well, the Negroes ought I think to have a holiday and some money distributed among the Principals. You will however do as you please.”

There is no evidence of any such celebration for the birth of Edward’s first daughter, EBB herself, in the previous year. Baby daughters seemingly were not highly regarded. On 2 October 1810, Mary Trepsack wrote a letter (SD144) which mentioned the birth of EBB’s sister Mary (who died a few years later). She said: “Mary has another Girl to the great disappointment of every one.”

Miss Trepsack’s letter was written to Elizabeth Barrett Williams, a person with a strange and important role in the overall Barrett story. Her father was Henry Waite, member of still another influential Jamaican family, and she was a niece of Judith Barrett, EBB’s great-grandmother. Elizabeth married Martin Williams and by him had two children. Later—as a widow—she became intimate with Judith’s son, her cousin Samuel Barrett, brother of EBB’s paternal grandmother. They had four sons “without benefit of clergy.” Samuel died in 1794 at age 29, but Elizabeth continued as a respected family figure until her own death in England in 1834. An 1820 letter (no. 113) written by EBB’s brother Edward, while attending school in London, mentions a visit to Mrs. Williams’s house.

Among the four sons of Samuel Barrett and Elizabeth Williams was Richard Barrett, who became one of the most prominent Jamaicans of his time. Though not of legitimate birth, he was in effect a first cousin of EBB’s father. Born in 1789, he inherited a substantial amount of Barrett property in Jamaica. He was trained in England for the legal profession, but returned to Jamaica shortly after coming of age in 1810. Besides gaining a reputation as an astute businessman and successful planter, he was an editor, judge, and legislator. Serving numerous terms in Jamaica’s House of Assembly, he was three times elected Speaker.

Humane toward his own slaves, Richard Barrett recognized the evils of slavery, but still viewed it as necessary for Jamaica’s economic survival. In 1833 he was chosen by his fellow colonists to appear before the British House of Commons and argue for continuation of slavery in the colonies. Reportedly he defended his cause with “phenomenal ability,” but the Parliament nevertheless voted for abolition.

Indications are that Richard Barrett was capable of great charm—as well as ruthlessness—but he was no friend of the Moulton-Barretts, EBB’s branch of the family. He was with the branch of cousins, collectively known as the Goodin Barretts, who engaged in a long and costly legal dispute with Edward Moulton-Barrett and his brother Sam. Involving the ownership of slaves and stock in Jamaica, it continued for more than a quarter of a century, and eventually was to cause severe financial reverses for Edward and Samuel Moulton-Barrett.

In an 1842 letter to her close friend Mary Russell Mitford, EBB wrote of Richard Barrett as “a cousin of ours, between whom and us there was no love … a man of talent and violence and some malice, who did what he could, at one time, to trample poor Papa down.”

In the early 1800’s, “poor Papa” and other people involved in West Indies plantation affairs faced a wide array of problems. For one thing, Britain’s Parliament in 1807 passed a law abolishing the colonial slave trade (though not slavery itself). After 1 March 1808, no additional slaves could be brought into the British possessions. This meant that the planters, in order to maintain their supply of slaves, had to devote added attention to raising them on the colonial estates.

Then there were the low sugar prices, already noted, stemming in part at least from the Napoleonic Wars and their interruption of trade. In a letter to Edward Moulton-Barrett dated 15 October 1806 (SD60), James Scarlett wrote: “It is certain that since your grandfather’s death in 1798 Sugars have sold very low—for the 7 years preceding they were very high.” He also warns against the danger of bad crop years.

Other perils arose, though sometimes as clouds with silver linings. On 4 January 1807 (SD67) Edward wrote to Philip Scarlett: “I cannot say I am sorry to inform you that I lost 270 Hogs heads of Sugar in the storm for had they arrived they would not have fetched so much as what they were insured at.”

In any case, Edward felt that he was under severe pressure during this period. On 29 March 1807 (SD73) he wrote to Philip Scarlett: “ … I am really poor and setting up house and various other expenses and really the state of West Indian affairs do not tempt one much to lay out money in Jamaica.” On 4 October 1807 (SD84), writing again to Philip Scarlett, he said: “You give a lamentable account of the Prospects for next year. I however hope for the best. We really have pressed on us, an accumulation of misfortunes, the times never were so bad. The only consolatory ray that dawns on us is they cannot be worse.”

Another problem, dating from around the time of his marriage, is mentioned by Edward in a letter to Philip Scarlett, 30 November 1807 (SD89). “I am sorry to say I must beg you will send no more sugars to Mr. Clarke’s,—he has not for the last two years settled our account … it is an unpleasant business and has given me great uneasiness.” This situation with his wife’s father continued for some time and was probably one of the underlying causes for Edward’s decision to move his family south. Three days after the birth of Bro, in June 1807, James Scarlett reported (SD76) that an estate, Bedwell Park, Hertfordshire, was on the market. By February 1808 Edward had given his landlord notice that he was quitting Coxhoe Hall. That autumn he was at Mickleham, where his mother had taken a house, and soon he set up his own household at North End, Hammersmith, while he scouted for a permanent residence.

The Hope End estate, where Edward and his family eventually settled, is mentioned by name in a letter which Mary Moulton-Barrett wrote to her mother on 12 May 1809 (SD123). Apparently tired of uncertainty over where they were to locate, she said: “I well know, that it will be a satisfaction to all parties, when Edward gets happily settled in a place to his wishes.” Mary, her parents and Scarlett hoped Edward would settle his family in Yorkshire, near Samuel and the Graham-Clarkes.

The first letter of this collected edition was written from Ledbury in September 1809 by Edward to his infant daughter Elizabeth, after an inspection of the Hope End Estate. Soon afterwards it was purchased from Lady Tempest, wife of Sir Henry Vane Tempest, who lived near Coxhoe Hall. (We are later to hear of this previous owner when EBB says in letter 389 to Hugh Stuart Boyd that her ghost is reportedly haunting the Hope End neighbourhood.) The Estate consisted of 475 acres, including park land with deer, surrounded by hills covered with timber. The name, Hope End, signified “a closed valley.”

Edward began almost at once to erect, from Turkish-style designs by Loudon (see Reconstruction, H87), a new mansion having minarets with solid concrete walls and cast-iron tops, windows over fireplaces, and other innovations. The original house, a brick-built Georgian mansion, was converted into stables, separated from the main house by a courtyard containing a clock tower. The grounds contained two ponds, converted from an existing stream, a cascade and kiosk, a grotto, a summer cottage, and an ice-house, and there was a subterranean passage leading from the house to the gardens. (The most comprehensive description of the estate is contained in the Sale Catalogue; see Reconstruction, M246 and volume 2, Appendix III.) Construction was in progress well into 1815 and the richly decorated drawing-room took a total of seven years to complete. EBB’s rooms were at the very top of the house. One, originally designed as a bedroom, was turned by her father into a pleasant sitting room. Her bedroom was on the opposite side of the passage.

An 1824 guide to Ledbury directed the traveller to “Hope End, the residence of E.M. Barrett, Esq.; this house is the only specimen of Turkish architecture in the kingdom. Hope End is placed in a situation enchantingly sweet; the grounds are decorated with the exquisite taste for which their owner is remarkable.”

Mary Moulton-Barrett took great pride in her children’s accomplishments—especially those of EBB and Bro—and spent many hours laboriously copying their poems and other literary endeavours. Undoubtedly their efforts were helped along by her own writing talents. While she did not write professionally, she expressed her thoughts and feelings very capably in long and chatty personal letters, and a journal (SD235) which she kept during an 1815 trip to France shows her as a keen observer and commentator. From comments in EBB’s childhood writings, we know that her mother showed careful concern for the children’s schooling, at home on the Hope End estate. It appears also that she played a sort of game with EBB, serving as “publisher” for some of the latter’s juvenilia.

In time, twelve children were born to Edward and Mary Moulton-Barrett, eight of whom were born at Hope End. As their family grew, Edward and Mary became involved in local politics and the activities of county life. But the power base upon which their life-style depended was slowly dissolving. Edward’s visits to London, to attend to West Indies affairs, became more frequent. In the midst of this development, Edward received a staggering blow: the death of his wife, 7 October 1828. How much she was aware of his financial difficulties is unclear, but due to her ill health and the general uncertainty, Edward probably didn’t convey the true scope of the situation. Four years after her death, creditors foreclosed and the Hope End Mansion and park lands were lost. Edward was able to keep the valuable woodlands for the rest of his life.

In August 1832 he moved his family from Hope End to rented houses—first in Sidmouth, then Gloucester Place, London. Miss Mitford, writing to Lady Dacre, 3 July 1836 (SD804), sums up EBB’s history to that time.

… I knew that you would be charmed with Miss Barrett’s book. Did I tell you her story? Ten years ago she was living with her father at a fine place amongst the Malvern Hills, the eldest of ten [sic] children. He was then a man of £15,000 a year. A cousin came to him & showed him a will dated 60 years before under which he claimed £75,000. Mr. Barrett, who had never heard of the claim showed the will to a lawyer who advised him to dispute it.– He did so; & after the cause had been driven from court to court it has been given against him with enormous costs & interest, so that his place in Herefordshire is sold, & he is living to use his own expression “a broken down man” in London. Of course the poverty is only comparative—people who live in Gloucester Place are probably what I should call rich—still with ten children coming into life the change is of course great; & the mother being dead, & the father utterly dispirited, my lovely young friend has been living in the middle of gaiety in a seclusion the most absolute—seeing nobody but the old scholar to whom the “Prometheus” is inscribed, & chiefly occupied in teaching her little brothers Greek–

In 1838, Edward took a leasehold on 50 Wimpole Street and the furniture and books from Hope End were uncrated and a permanent home established.

The Moulton-Barrett and Graham-Clarke families were extremely mobile, with large extended family ties in England, Ireland, the Continent and the West Indies. EBB aptly described her family to Miss Mitford—“We, you know, number our cousins after the tribes of Israel.” Communicating by writing, which they could afford, was considered the norm. While there seems to have been little conscious effort to preserve family letters, circumstances have led to many of them being preserved. Succeeding generations of the Moulton-Barretts have been great caretakers of family documents and letters.

An immense amount of rich documentation for EBB’s childhood exists, probably without parallel in English literary history. The letters between young EBB and her sisters, brothers, and parents (which fall within our publication) constitute only a small part of the enormous Moulton-Barrett archives, for the most part still in family hands. For the early years, the secondary material rivals the primary material in bulk, and while not a literary correspondence, merits attention for its social commentary. It places EBB’s father in a different light from that traditionally held and casts Mary Moulton-Barrett as the prime motivator in EBB’s early creative development.

Throughout her life, EBB had a natural propensity, later encouraged by her illness and forced isolation, for carrying on extended correspondence with a few friends. By the time she commenced her correspondence with Browning, she had penned four major series of letters—those to H.S. Boyd, R.H. Horne, Julia Martin and Mary Russell Mitford.

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The Poets in Italy

After their marriage, the Brownings conducted their correspondence in much the same manner: Browning primarily wrote perfunctory letters in order to accomplish a particular purpose—except possibly those to his family—while EBB continued her established correspondences, adding to her recipients family members (most noticeably Henrietta, Arabella, and Sarianna Browning), Fanny Haworth, Isa Blagden and Anna Jameson.

From Florence, EBB wrote to her sister Arabella, 10–11 May 1848: “Any papers of mine, letters, &c left in Wimpole St. (and there was a deal box full, which came from Hope End besides the green box) these things I beg you to take care of for me—and we will make a bonfire of many of them when we meet.” Arabella took her charge faithfully (it is doubtful that any bonfire took place) and gathered up all the documents into the deal box—a large narrow black coach box (see Reconstruction, H539.1). Many of these items were claimed by EBB on her visits to England, and were taken to Florence. Upon EBB’s death, RB sorted through the papers and several bear his dockets, dated during the month after her death. These he had crated, placed in storage, and eventually shipped to London and 19 Warwick Crescent.

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The Poets’ Attitude Towards Publication

Numerous references in EBB’s letters indirectly indicate that she fully expected her letters to be collected and published. In writing to RB in February 1846, she said: “I, for my part, value letters … as the most vital part of biography.” When in her late letters EBB objected to being “anatomized” by the public, it was on the grounds that she was not yet dead.

RB’s attitude was quite the opposite. He was fiercely resolved, almost to the point of mania, that access to his personal life be denied. As he grew older, he advanced his own views as being also those of his wife. He determined that as long as he lived, biographers would not see any document in his possession and thereby give rise to unwanted publicity. It is worth quoting at length his views, as set forth in his letter to his brother-in-law, George Moulton-Barrett, 2 May 1882, on numerous appeals for biographical details of EBB.

… The applications have generally been for a publication of the Letters I may possess or have a control over—or at least for leave to inspect them for the sake of what biographical information they might contain. I have once, by declaring I would prosecute by law, hindered a man’s proceedings who had obtained all the letters to Mr Boyd, and was soliciting, on the strength of that acquisition, letters in all the quarters he guessed likely.[5] The only instance in which I departed from my rule was that of Horne—who, poor, old and pitiable, saw a golden resource in the publication of the correspondence which began and, in the main, ended before I knew the writer…. We are all of one mind here, I, you,—no doubt, the Brothers,—and assuredly the One whose feelings we know and respect. Now, I possess hundreds of letters—besides those addressed to me,—those to the Martins, Miss Mitford, Mr Boyd, Chorley, Kenyon, Miss Blagden—and others: and moreover am promised the reversion of other collections when their owners die…. While I live, I can play the part of guardian effectually enough—but I must soon resolve on the steps necessary to be taken when I live no longer—and I complete my seventieth year next Sunday. I shall soon have to pass in a very superficial review all these letters, just inspecting so much of them (and a mere dip into each will suffice) as to ascertain what should be destroyed, what preserved as containing nothing to hurt the living or the dead: it is an immense sacrifice—but one that must be made, and I shall not for a moment consider anything but what I know would be the desire of my wife in the matter. So much for my part of the duty. There is however a danger which I apprehend, and cannot be responsible for. The letters to Arabel were deposited in security somewhere: I suppose that the copyright of them belongs to me—so that, if by any accident publication was attempted, I could prevent it: but if I am off the scene, if you, and the Brothers, in due time follow me, who is to be the keeper of what must inevitably be the most intimate and complete disclosure of precisely those secrets which we unite in wishing to remain secret forever? Are the young people likely to be interested in this as we are, or certain to be as able to withstand literary cajoleries … as I have been and shall be? The same danger is to be apprehended from any publicity given to the letters to Henrietta—which I am altogether powerless concerning: as indeed I probably am in the case of the letters now in question. So, dear George, I do all in my limited power by bringing, once for all, this state of things under your notice. There will not be found in the whole of the correspondence one untrue, ungenerous word, I know—but plenty of sad communication which has long ago served its purpose and should be forgotten. Unfortunately the unscrupulous hunger for old scandals is on the increase—and as the glory of that most wonderful of women is far from at the full—I cannot help many forebodings—which you share with me, I know.

In a letter to the same brother-in-law, 5 November 1887, RB reintroduces the topic:

… let me repeat—for probably the last time—how much it is on my mind that, when I am no longer here to prevent it, some use will be made of the correspondence not in my power: all in my power is safe, and will ever remain so: and I shall enjoin on Pen, with whom will remain the property allowed by law in the manuscript letters—not in the writings themselves, but in the publication of them,—to hinder this by every possible means. The letters to the sisters,—of which I never read one line, but their contents are sufficiently within my knowledge,—these unfortunately contain besides the inevitable allusions to domestic matters, all the imaginary spiritualistic experiences by which the unsuspecting and utterly truthful nature of Ba was abused: she was duped by a woman through whose impostures one more versed in worldly craft and falsehood would have clearly seen at once,—and the discovery of this came too late to prevent disclosures which will never be properly accounted for by the careless and spiteful public, only glad to be amused by the aberrations of a soul so immeasurably superior in general intelligence to their own. I have done all I can do,—you have naturally influence where I am helpless, and so I leave the matter—with grave forebodings.

George Moulton-Barrett clearly did not totally share his brother-in-law’s views. Unknown to RB, Arabel’s letters were in his care and he took no steps to destroy or suppress them. Nor did he intercede with Henrietta’s husband, who had already, in 1875, laboriously copied out a much-edited version of the letters to Henrietta, omitting all references he considered too personal.[6] In his preface (unpublished) he clearly stated that it was his wife’s wish that the letters to herself be printed.

George apparently wrote to RB suggesting that he should edit a selection of EBB’s letters. The poet’s response is illuminating in that it provides a measure of justification in presenting this edition of unexpurgated correspondence. He wrote, 21 January 1889:

… I am greatly obliged by the loan of the letters and piece of poetry, which I return with truest thanks. I feel deeply indeed the interest which attaches itself to the merest scrap of that beloved handwriting, and am perfectly aware of a very general desire on the part of the Public to possess such a collection of letters as you suggest might be made,—and some collection of what may be procurable will be one day made, I have no doubt, when matter over which I lose control becomes, by accident or otherwise, the property of the collector. But there seem to me insuperable obstacles to my taking on myself such an office: not so much,—strange as that might appear,—from the repugnance of the writer to any publicity of the kind, as from certain unfortunate circumstances connected with the case. I could disregard perhaps a feeling caused simply by the modesty and avoidance of notoriety which were conspicuous in the writer, and which I have on occasion been forced to withstand: but the difficulty is that if once a beginning is made there will be no power of stopping there: we cannot pick and choose what portions of a life may be illustrated and what left obscure—and it is precisely upon what is so left that the public curiosity would be exercised. I could perhaps see my way to presenting just so much of the correspondence as merely relates to literature, politics, theology, description of persons and things: but if once matters of a personal and more intimate nature were ventured upon, every endeavour would be made—eventually—to supply the gaps: and, you will believe me, it is not for my own memory, once safe out of this gossip-loving and scandal-hungry world, that I am at all apprehensive. Two years ago, I spent more than a week in destroying my own letters to my family,—from my earliest days up to the death of my father they had all been preserved. But I possess hundreds of letters of the most interesting kind—addressed to Mr Boyd, Mrs Martin, Miss Mitford, Mrs Jameson, and others—which I could not bring myself to do away with,—whatever may be the ultimate disposition of them. As for the letters to myself,—and for months before our marriage I received one daily,—these which are so immeasurably superior to any compositions of the kind I have any experience of,—would glorify the privileged receiver beyond any imaginable crown in the world or out of it—but I cannot, any more than Timon, “cut my heart in sums—tell out my blood.” Notwithstanding all this, my dear George, you may be assured that the responsibility attending my ownership of letters and other documents is never absent from my thoughts, and I remain open to any conviction which may result from circumstances that have not as yet taken place. The unhappy letters which concern spiritualism I wish with all my heart could be eliminated from those out of my hands, and burnt forthwith—as they ought to be.

We must be thankful that RB’s earlier thoughts of destroying portions of EBB’s letters were not carried out. EBB’s habit of interweaving topics in her letters would have made this exceedingly difficult. In the end, Browning couldn’t bring himself to destroy any of her manuscripts—even those letters that touched on spiritualism. This does not keep us from lamenting his act of annihilation of his own letters, which act accounts in part for the imbalance of letters in early volumes of their collected correspondence.[7] Those readers whose primary interest is in RB must bear with the fact that RB himself is to be blamed for being initially overshadowed. Their patience will be amply rewarded by our decision to include both poets’ letters, as EBB’s communications during their marriage abound with biographical information about him.

RB’s clearing-out of papers in 1887 probably wasn’t as wholesale as has been reported or imagined. It seems to have been directed mainly toward his own letters to his parents and sister. (There exist in EBB’s correspondence to Sarianna numerous letters with portions extended in the throat of the envelope, which bears the address in RB’s hand. It may be assumed in these cases that a letter from Browning was originally enclosed.) Browning possibly destroyed more letters addressed jointly to himself and EBB, but again seemingly those from family members, personal in nature, and not letters from public figures. Presumably among the casualties were Pen’s letters to his father and the countless letters written to EBB by her sisters. Only one such letter survives, written by Henrietta, returned to the sender as misdirected, and still preserved by her family. It is illuminating in that its length and topics covered emulate EBB’s letters to her.

RB refrained from destroying his own correspondence with Isa Blagden, and of course with EBB. Strangely, he did not destroy the letters written to himself by Julia Wedgwood. The 1887 culling of the correspondence seems to be the only such instance—the number of letters addressed to him after 1887 is appreciably greater.

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Disposition of RB’s Estate

In April 1891, after RB’s death, his accumulated books, manuscripts and letters were crated and sent to Venice where his sister Sarianna had elected to live with her nephew. Although RB apparently did communicate to his son and sister his views on privacy, a decade after his death both were assisting Frederic G. Kenyon in making the selection for his two-volume edition of EBB’s letters (1897), and later they aided Reginald Smith (Smith, Elder & Co.) in publishing the love letters (1899).

In 1912, upon the death of Pen Browning, all the letters that RB had collected, and those added by Pen himself, became the property of Pen’s widow, Fannie, and sixteen first cousins on his mother’s side. For the most part the letters were located at Pen’s estate near Florence, La Torre all’Antella. Most correspondence was removed immediately by Marchesa Peruzzi (Edith Story) and Fannie to the Marchesa’s home on Via Maggio. Fannie returned some of Pen’s letters to their authors—Frederic G. Kenyon and Reginald Smith are two cases in point. Many letters to the poet, probably late letters, she took upon herself to destroy.[8] After it had been determined that Pen had died effectively intestate, the administrators of his estate ordered his effects to be sold. Fannie and the Marchesa Peruzzi were required to give up the letters in their care to an agent from Sotheby’s. They were offered for sale on the second day of a six-day sale, May 1913.

However, it is known that Fannie did not surrender all the items. She removed some of the enclosures from the love letters—these have since turned up. She deposited in the Library of Congress a sizeable collection of letters addressed to the poet. She also retained the letter EBB left (enclosed in her letter to her brother George) addressed to her father and announcing her departure from Wimpole Street. It and seven subsequent unopened letters were returned to RB with “a very violent and unsparing letter,” in response to an appeal for reconciliation during the Brownings’ 1851 visit to London.

On 22 May 1913, T.J. Wise wrote to Fannie:

My mind is full of the memory of those 8 tiny letters, all but one still unopened, sent by the broken-hearted—or half broken-hearted—daughter to the sternest of parents. The one I read was painful in the extreme, but the whole correspondence … must be preserved intact. Pray do not think me ungrateful or unkind if I beg you to allow me to acquire these precious letters, should you ever be able to see your way to do so. I should, you know, regard them as a sacred trust.

Col. Edward A. Moulton-Barrett, chief administrator of Pen’s estate, was adamant that Fannie surrender these highly personal letters to his family, and, at the end of May 1913, he successfully forced her to give them up. He deposited them into the care of his solicitor and distant cousin Henry P. Surtees.

Again we quote from a letter of T.J. Wise to Fannie, 4 June 1913:

I can quite understand that the Barrett family should wish to destroy these letters from Elizabeth to her father. But the same reason that prompts them to wish for the destruction of the letters prompts us to wish for their safe and careful preservation. They will justify, more than anything else possibly can, the action taken by Elizabeth & Robert Browning,—an action which the position adopted by her father rendered inevitable and right. I do hope your lawyer will support you in this matter. It seems to me that if you have given up the letters as a portion of Pen’s estate, that the same reason would render it illegal for the Barretts to have them destroyed. Your lawyer should, I imagine, claim their sale, & I should be only too glad to purchase them at any fit and proper valuation…. I have destroyed your letter, as you instructed me to do.

As late as 1920, Wise was still trying to obtain these letters. They remained with Surtees until 1924, when by mutual consent of Moulton-Barrett family members they were sent to Lt.-Col. Harry Peyton Moulton-Barrett, titular head of the family.

On 20 February 1924 he acknowledged to Surtees their receipt and stated: “The letters have been burned by me in the presence of a witness.” However, sometime prior to his death in 1936 he made an inventory of his possessions, with a cryptic entry: “2. Desk containing (destroyed) letters together with several sketches and obituary notice of EBB.” There can be little doubt that these were the letters which EBB wrote to her father. A desk, incorporating in its structure a concealed drawer, and believed by Lt.-Col. Moulton-Barrett’s son to be the one referred to, was sold at a provincial public auction in October 1945. Unfortunately, the transaction was done by proxy, without a search of the contents. The purchaser, a furniture dealer, cannot recall to whom the desk was resold.

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Unlocated Collections

In the catalogue of EBB’s centenary exhibition it was noted that four major collections of letters remained unlocated—those addressed to Isa Blagden and Sarianna Browning by EBB and letters addressed to Mrs. FitzGerald and Mrs. Sutherland Orr (sister of Sir Frederick Leighton) by RB. Within a few years of the exhibition three of the collections surfaced. Only those letters written to Mrs. Sutherland Orr remain elusive. As they have never appeared at auction, one must assume that, if she didn’t destroy them, they are still in the hands of family descendants we have been unable to locate.[9]

Another missing collection—about 130 letters from H.S. Boyd to EBB—was offered for sale by C.H. Last, bookseller in Bromley, England, around 1927. All attempts to locate them have failed, as have efforts to find the Robert Browning/Julia Wedgwood correspondence.[10] These 65 letters were edited in 1937 by Richard Curle, but the unreliability of this edition is apparent by comparison with facsimiles provided in the volume.

As Browning foresaw, letters became available in the ensuing years, posing problems of what to print and what to exclude. Imagination often did more harm in conjecturing the excisions than the full passage could possibly have done. At this distance of time, there is no question of the benefit to be derived from printing the entire extant correspondence in full—the “gossip-loving and scandal-hungry world” is still with us, but the truth will be available for those who seek it diligently.

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Editorial Approach and Principles

Over the years we have had to face a large array of technical editorial decisions, most of them growing out of the sheer bulk of the correspondence. We are often made aware that the only decision that hasn’t been redefined is the original aim to present all extant letters written to the Brownings as well as those written by them. Our definition of “letter” embraces written communications intended for delivery to the addressee, even when the form used is verse, as in birthday odes.

When the manuscript of a letter has been located our transcription is based on the original or a photocopy thereof. We include letters from four other sources: manuscript copy in the hand of a second party; unpublished typed copy, manuscript of which is missing; previously published text of which the manuscript has since disappeared; auction or dealer catalogues, if a direct quotation has been printed. If our transcript is not from the original manuscript, our source is reproduced faithfully; we have corrected only obvious errors although it is probable that a previous editor altered spelling and punctuation.

Following is a detailed description of our editorial principles.

  1. The letters are arranged in chronological order.
  2. Each letter is assigned a number; point numbers are used if the letter is a late entry. This number, used for cross references, appears first in the letter’s heading.
  3. The name of the sender(s) and the name of the addressee(s) are also presented in the heading. Square brackets are not used here to indicate editorial conjecture. Any questionable attributions are noted.
  4. Our primary aim is to present the letter text in the form in which the writer intended it to be read; therefore text that has been altered by the author is given only in its final reading; text cancelled or obliterated by the author is not restored.
  5. Text that has been altered or obliterated by a second hand is restored when possible. If we are unable to reconstruct the passage the nature and extent of the alteration or obliteration are indicated in a note.
  6. We reproduce as many of the author’s individual characteristics as possible within the parameters allowed by the source and the rules of typography. Variant spellings and errors are copied exactly, and only those lapses which seem most likely to be interpreted as misprints are noted by the conventional [sic]. Thus easily understood irregularities, such as a word or even a name spelled differently in the same letter, or the substitution of you for your, are left as given, unless the context requires a comment. In foreign words, accents are reproduced as written, and missing accents have not been supplied.
  7. Words that were unintentionally duplicated are omitted without comment.
  8. Interpolations are included in the body of the text without caret or comment.
  9. Passages where quotation marks are repeated at the beginning of each line are adapted to current usage by omitting the repetitious markings.
  10. Words and phrases underlined once or twice in the original manuscript are represented respectively by italics and small capital letters; if underlining occurs more than twice it is represented in small capital letters with a note.
  11. Greek passages are rendered in modern forms, old-style orthography and ligatures not being retained. No italicizing occurs in Greek passages. The writer’s underscoring has been reproduced as underscoring if it is for emphasis of certain syllables and accents.
  12. Not reproduced are underscorings in addresses, dates and signatures.
  13. Words missing due to holes, seal tears, or deterioration of the manuscript are treated as follows: if enough of a partial word remains to suggest the full word, the balance is supplied in angle brackets. Wholly conjectural words are given in angle brackets, preceded by a question mark if the reading is uncertain. Where there is no sound basis for conjecture, missing words or phrases are represented by ellipses within angle brackets.
  14. The transfer of an author’s punctuation (which usually conforms to no consistent system) into typography is the most complex problem with which we were confronted. We have endeavoured to be faithful to the original in our interpretation, but have added paragraph divisions in a few cases to avoid unclear run-ons. Also, the writers’ variable-length dashes have had to be standardized.
  15. Superior letters have been retained. The period below has also been retained; dashes below have been converted to periods.
  16. Ampersands, abbreviations and contractions have been retained, including EBB’s habitual placing of the apostrophe between two parts of the word rather than over the omitted letter(s).
  17. The writing locale is given at top right, although the writer may have included this information elsewhere in the letter. If a letter was written from several places, the succeeding place(s) appear only in the text. The location is supplied in square brackets when no place is given in the manuscript. If it is preceded by a question mark, this indicates a questionable editorial conjecture.
  18. The date of writing also appears at top right, although the writer sometimes gives this information elsewhere in the letter. If a letter was written over several days, inclusive dates are given in square brackets without comment, although the succeeding dates often appear as well in the text. Dates based on postmarks or dockets are given in square brackets, preceded by the word Postmark or Docket. With these exceptions, any dating contained within square brackets indicates editorial conjecture explained in a note. Any element of doubt is indicated by the use of a question mark within the square brackets, the doubt extending from the question mark to the closing square bracket. Thus, [16 March] [?1854] would indicate that we are confident of the 16th March dating, although conjectured, but that the year is open to question. Letters that we have been unable to date exactly are placed at their earliest possible dates.
  19. The complimentary close is separated from the letter except when so informal as to be considered part of the text.
  20. Conclusions of letters, and postscripts, often appear in margins, on envelopes and occasionally are cross-written. In this edition all text is presented in its proper sequence without reference to its physical placement, unless this has a bearing on the message.
  21. The following information appears after each letter:
    1. Address of recipient, if given by the writer.
    2. Docket or endorsement added by the addressee, or a contemporary.
    3. Previous published text, usually the most accessible.
    4. Derivation of the text. Letters from original manuscripts are indicated by Manuscript preceding the name of the present holder. If the manuscript is held in more than one location, the citations appear in alphabetical order and thus do not correspond to the portions of the manuscript. Letters based on previous publications are indicated by Text preceding the citation. Other derivations are indicated by Source preceding the citation.
  22. Notes are numbered sequentially for each letter. We endeavour to identify every person mentioned, though, inevitably, some of the minor personalities have defied our efforts. Because of the repetitive nature of many of these references, we are able to identify each person only once, unless a subsequent mention requires additional clarification. To assist the reader in refreshing his memory, the index indicates the principal identifying note(s) for persons and places mentioned frequently. We have also attempted to amplify places, events, quotations and statements that seem in need of elucidation. Textual irregularities are also clarified.

In addition to the letters, each volume will contain a list of cue-titles, abbreviations and symbols; a chronology; biographical sketches of principal figures; a checklist of supporting documents; a list of absent letters; a list of collections; a list of correspondents; and a comprehensive index. The final volume of the edition will be devoted to a fusion of all previous indices.

During the course of this work, we intend to reproduce all available likenesses of RB and EBB, each to appear chronologically in its appropriate volume.

Letters that surface after publication of the relevant volume, or are unavailable to us now, will be issued in a supplementary volume at the completion of the project.

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  1. 1Since the writing of the introduction, editorial work on The Browning’s Correspondence has been supported in large part by successive grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent United States federal agency.
  2. 2In 1993 the property was transferred to Eton College.
  3. 3However, Edward and Samuel stylized the usage as Edward M. Barrett and Samuel M. Barrett, the full name appearing only on legal documents. From the earliest, Elizabeth signed her works and letters E.B. Barrett or E.B.B. the only recorded instances where she gave her signature in full as Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett were on her marriage certificate and register (see Reconstruction, H598 and 599). It was only after EBB’s death that her brothers and their children began to use the double-barrelled name. RB explains this appellation in a letter to George Murray Smith, 19 July 1889: “The name should be—Elizabeth Barrett Browning—if referring to later years,—Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett, if to earlier. Her name was as I gave it—her Father having added the second name to his own surname—so that the two were borne and discarded together.”
  4. 4See RB’s “Prefatory Note” to Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (London, 1890), I, vii–viii.
  5. 5In 1863, two years after EBB’s death, George Stampe’s proposal to publish EBB’s letters to Boyd was withdrawn after RB threatened to obtain an injunction against him. Earlier, in 1830 and 1835, E.H. Barker’s proposals to publish these letters were turned down by EBB. Upon Boyd’s death the letters fell into the hands of Mary Ann Smith, youngest daughter and biographer of Dr. Adam Clarke. EBB asked her to return them, but she declined. RB successfully claimed them from Mrs. Smith’s son some years later.
  6. 6Surtees’s transcripts were used by Leonard Huxley in his Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Letters to her Sister, 1846–1859 (London, 1929). Over a third of the original text was excised by Henrietta’s husband. The full text of these letters will appear in this edition.
  7. 7One other factor influencing the extent of EBB’s correspondence vis-à-vis RB’s is the cost of sending letters prior to the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840. Postage was then assessed on the basis of the number of sheets used, a second sheet doubling the rate charged—and even a single sheet, if weighing over an ounce, was charged at four times the basic rate. Although the Moulton-Barretts always attempted to evade postal charges by the use of the post-free franking privilege extended to members of Parliament (Samuel Moulton-Barrett, during his term as an M.P., and their neighbour Lord Eastnor being especially helpful in this respect), or by sending local letters by the hand of servants or carters, they were never deterred by the high cost of postage when the charges could not be avoided.
  8. 8Fannie Browning wrote to T.J. Wise, 1 November 1933, “At the time of the Sale in 1913 seeing the futility or advisability of so many too many letters being kept, I destroyed hundreds. Only of course not The Poet’s own” (ms at Rutgers University).
  9. 9Since the writing of the introduction, extracts, in an unidentified hand, from six letters by RB to Mrs. Orr were consigned to auction at Phillips, 24 October 1985, by a distant cousin, Sir Michael Leighton, of Loton Park. They are now at the Armstrong Browning Library.
  10. 10Since the writing of the introduction, this correspondence surfaced in the possession of Halsted B. Vander Poel, whose collection of English literature sold at Christie’s, 3 March 2004. It is now at the Armstrong Browning Library.
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