BROWNING (ROBERT) Autograph letter signed ("Robert Browning"), to Walter B. Slater, 1866
Lot 14*
BROWNING (ROBERT) Autograph letter signed ("Robert Browning"), to Walter B. Slater, 1866
Sold for £2,750 (US$ 4,303) inc. premium

Lot Details
BROWNING (ROBERT)
Autograph letter signed ("Robert Browning"), to Walter B. Slater, book collector and friend of Thomas J. Wise, returning a book which had belonged to the forger Thomas Powell ("...an example of the practices of Thomas Powell, its original owner, – which consisted in affecting to forge, in sport, the signatures of his acquaintance in order to subsequently induce the belief, when his serious forgeries should be discovered, that he was simply a monomaniac on the matter of an irresistible itch at imitating other folks' writing – which he did only too adroitly as the Mercantile Firm which employed him found by experience. The signatures in the present case are very like indeed – although with – to my eye – a discernible difference, – a slight one, certainly. He was well acquainted with the persons supposed to have written on the fly-leaf, and had letters &c from each of them. My own hand-writing has, no doubt, changed somewhat in the course of years; and, at the time when I knew Powell, much resembled what you see intended for it..."); and telling Slater that Powell "was forced to fly the country, thereby avoiding the punishment he richly deserved" and that "he may still be alive for aught I know"; Browning then goes on to denounce Powell's account of EBB [in Living Authors of England (1849)] ("...This precious farrago was referred to, in the Academy, a short while since, as containing 'notable information respecting my wife which deserved the notice it had not found in the article just out in the new Biographical Dictionary' [the Dictionary of National Biography, 1886]: the fact being that he never saw her in his life, nor had any other means of informing himself than by what he could glean from her correspondence with Mr Horne; on purely literary subjects"; going on to recount the dealings he and Dickens had with him after he was exposed: "Dickens exposed the poor fellow at the time – myself was abroad. Thus you have all I can well communicate on a disagreeable subject. By the way, the last letter I ever received from Powell, with whom I had ceased to hold intercourse, was impudently written throughout as if by the brother of Dickens; Henry, long since dead – that is, since that time"; autograph envelope ("Walter B. Slater, Esq"), 4 pages, on blue-grey writing paper, engraved address, 8vo, Warwick Crescent, 6 November 1886

Footnotes

  • BROWNING TO A CLOSE FRIEND OF THOMAS J. WISE, ON HIS WIFE ELIZABETH, CHARLES DICKENS, AND THEIR DEALINGS WITH A NOTORIOUS FORGER: for a note on the "monomaniac" forger Thomas Powell, see lot 10. Walter Brindley Slater, the recipient of this fine letter, was one of Wise's earliest and closest friends and was to act as his executor. (Powell died – anent Browning's query – in 1887).

    The present letter was one of those published by Slater's friend – and Powell's fellow forger – Thomas J. Wise in Letters from Robert Browning to Various Correspondents, 2nd Series (1907-08). Stuart B. Schimmel has observed: 'Robert Browning's name keeps turning up throughout this entire talk. His longest prose piece was about Chatterton. His second longest happens to be the introduction to a book of forged Shelley letters [by 'Major' Byron, see below]. Robert Browning's own poetry was forged by Thomas Wise. His wife's poetry was forged by Thomas Wise, and I have another letter at home which is by some obscure forger who was running around signing Robert Browning's name to things. Today I think Browning would be called "forgery-prone" by insurance companies. He didn't do anything to deserve all this attention; he just seemed to attract forgers' ('Living with Forgers', the first Robert F. Metzdorf Memorial Lecture in the University of Rochester Library Bulletin, xxxi, Winter 1979). See illustration on preceding page.
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