BROWNING, ELIZABETH BARRETT. 1806-1861.
Autograph Manuscript, being a working draft of Poems Before Congress, 54 pp, 8vo, n.p., [c.1860], ink and pencil on paper, with manuscript title in a later hand noting "also drafts of other poems which may be unpublished," some soiling and spotting to leaves; WITH: the first edition of Poems Before Congress (London: Chapman and Hall, 1860), all bound in full red morocco gilt by Riviere and Son, rubbed with tear at bottom of front cover.
Provenance: Col. Robert R. Gimbel family collection, Sotheby's New York, June 18, 1987.
Poems Before Congress, the poet's last book to be published in her lifetime, was a call for vast political reform around the world. It was also her most controversial collection. As a long time resident of Italy, she discussed current local politics in seven of the eight poems and demanded Italian independence. The eighth, "A Curse for a Nation," is an attack on American slavery. Many critics thought her book was blatantly anti-British. Although considered to be England's greatest contemporary poet, even greater than the late Tennyson and her husband Robert Browning, some reviewers thought a woman had no business combining politics with poesy. "What I have written," she argued in the preface, "has simply been written because I love truth and justice quand meme 'more than Plato' and Plato's country, more than Dante and Dante's country, more even than Shakespeare and Shakespeare's country ... I confess that I dream of the day when an English statesman shall arise with a heart too large for England; having courage in the face of his countrymen to assert of some suggested policy,-- 'This is good for your trade; this is necessary for your domination; but it will vex a people hard by; it will hurt a people farther off; it will profit nothing to the general humanity: therefore, away with it!--it is not for you or for me.'" Her spidery handwriting, at times illegible in its fervor and haste, contains extensive revisions of these eight poems. Within this ornate web of invention may be discovered drafts of other and possibly unpublished poetry. She continued to make alterations in the text after the poems were printed.
- Further research indicates, that this lot is likely from Browning Notebooks (see Kelley & Coley D1423) sold Browning Collections, lot 140, Sotheby's May 2nd, 1914, sold to Edwards, and hence broken and assembled as here.