TENNYSON, ALFRED. 1809-1892.
ROBERT BROWNING'S COPY?
The Lover's Tale. London: Edward Moxon, 1833. 60 pp. 12mo (160 x 100 mm). 19th century red crushed morocco. Custom chemise and slipcase.
The Browning?-Pickering-Rowfant-Spoor-Chrysler copy of this exceptional Tennyson rarity, with autograph letter signed by Robert Browning bound in.
"The Lover's Tale" was written by the 19-year-old Tennyson, and was originally intended to form a part of his 1833 Poems. During publication, however, Tennyson had second thoughts, and withdrew the poem from the press. At that stage, either the poet or his friend Arthur Hallam had a few copies of "The Lover's Tale" struck off with a separate title page-probably as few as six or seven. Six copies are known: the Ashley Library copy now in the British Library; the Crocker copy, in the University of Virginia; the W.H. Arnold copy in the Huntington Library; the Kern copy in the Berg Collection; one at Harvard; the present copy. Some sources mention another copy retained by Tennyson and cut up while preparing a later edition. Richard Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton, owned a copy at one stage, which may be the copy now at Harvard. Ours is the only known copy in private hands.
This copy has a complex history. Its first public appearance was in June 1870 at a Sotheby's auction where, bound with two other Tennyson works, it sold to Basil Montagu Pickering [1836-1878]. Richard Herne Shepherd immediately borrowed this copy from Pickering and used it to produce a pirate edition.
Later, the volume was separated into its parts, and at Pickering's sale at Puttick and Simpson's in early April 1879, the three works were offered separately. The Lover's Tale sold to the bookseller Francis Harvey. Several newspapers reported on the sale, and Harvey attempted to answer some bibliographical questions in a letter published in the Daily News on April 25. Robert Browning spotted the letter, and wrote the same day to Harvey; his 2½-page letter is inlaid, folded and bound into the present volume, and reads, in part: "I myself possessed, many years ago, a copy of The Lover's Tale ... It was given to me by Mr John Forster [Dickens' biographer] who had received it from the author ... I parted with it, some forty years ago, to a certain Thomas Powell who probably took it with him to America." (Powell [1809-1887] defrauded Dickens and fled to the US in 1849, where he wrote The Living Authors of England.) Browning alludes to pagination questions, piracy, and possible proof issues.
Furnished with this Browning letter and two newspapers clippings, Harvey probably had the book bound in its present binding and sold it to Frederick Locker-Lampson [1821-1895], whose bookplate it bears. It was included in the catalogue of Locker-Lampson's Rowfant Library, published in 1886, where he states that it was previously in the ownership of "one of [Tennyson's] American acquaintances."
In 1905, the Rowfant Library was bought en bloc by E. Dwight Church, who sold many of the books through Dodd, Mead & Co. It was by this route that The Lover's Tale was acquired by John A. Spoor [1851-1926], whose 1921 bookplate is on the front free endpaper. Thomas Wise, in his Ashley Library catalogue (1922-1936), provides a census of copies, and asserts that the present copy was Browning's (vol. 8 pp 105-7). This chimes with Locker-Lampson's mention of a previous American owner, surely a reference to Thomas Powell who knew Tennyson. Locker-Lampson avoided explicitly identifying his copy as Browning's, presumably because both Browning and Tennyson were still alive (as was Powell). Of the other known copies, only the UVa copy could be Browning's: it has little provenance before its appearance in the Isle of Wight some time around the 1910s. But the evidence linking the present copy to Browning is very strong.
It later sold at Spoor's sale at Parke-Bernet on May 4, 1939 (lot 975), to Walter Chrysler, who placed his morocco booklabel inside. Its last appearance at auction was in the Walter P. Chrysler Jr. sale at Parke-Bernet on February 27, 1952 (lot 344).
An extraordinary Tennyson item that unites two great Victorian poets and numerous characters from the golden age of book collecting.