BROWNING, ELIZABETH BARRETT. 1806-1861. Autograph Manuscript, being a draft of her revised translation of the Aeschelus play Prometheus Bound, for publication in her 1850 work Poems,

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Lot 5
BROWNING, ELIZABETH BARRETT. 1806-1861.
Autograph Manuscript, being a draft of her revised translation of the Aeschelus play Prometheus Bound, for publication in her 1850 work Poems,

Sold for US$ 215,000 inc. premium
BROWNING, ELIZABETH BARRETT. 1806-1861.
Autograph Manuscript, being a draft of her revised translation of the Aeschelus play Prometheus Bound, for publication in her 1850 work Poems, 60 pp, folio, n.p., [1850], loose in gilt red cloth slipcase and box, thumbsoiling, spotting, some folds.
Provenance: Sale Sotheby's, July 20th, 1981.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was fascinated with classical poetry from her earliest years. At eight years old, she was reading Alexander Pope's translations of Homer and by then studying Greek. She wrote her Homeric epic, "The Battle of Marathon," at fourteen. Critics have long noted the profound influence of the Greeks on her poetry. In quoting from "The Drama of Exile" in his Broadway Journal (January 4, 1845), Edgar Allan Poe noted, "There is an Homeric force here--a vivid picturesqueness in all men will appreciate and admire" (p 6). A great admirer of her early work, the blind Greek scholar Hugh Stuart Boyd suggested she translate Aeschylus' play Prometheus Bound; and she published two different versions within a seventeen year period. Although she signs this draft "Elizabeth Barrett Barrett," it is the second one of 1850. She was not entirely happy with the original anonymous version of 1833, composed in twelve days: the earlier piece was too literal a translation, not true to Aeschylus, and not particularly good English poetry. (She joked that it should have been "thrown in the fire immediately afterward as the only means of giving it a little warmth.") She published the new improved version in the 1850 edition of her Poems and made further changes in 1853 and 1856. It was not an easy task. As she herself admitted in her preface to the 1833 edition, Aeschylus "is a fearless and impetuous, not a cautious and accomplished poet. His excellences could not be acquired by art, nor could his defects exist separately from genius ... His excellences consist chiefly in a vehement imaginativeness, a strong but repressed sensibility, a high tone of morality, a fervency of devotion, and a rolling energetic diction: and as sometimes his fancy rushes in, where his judgement fears to tread, and language, even the most copious and powerful of languages, writhes beneath its impetuosity; an occasional mixing of metaphor, and frequent obscurity of style, are named among his chief defects." The present edited manuscript demonstrates with what great care she took in coming up with just the right word, phrase or line to express what Aeschylus might have said were he English. And yet it remains thoroughly Barrett Browning in its execution.

Saleroom notices

  • Further research has indicated that this is the revised printer's copy of the 1850 edition with revisions. See Kelley and Coley The Browning Collections D1163.
Contacts
BROWNING, ELIZABETH BARRETT. 1806-1861. Autograph Manuscript, being a draft of her revised translation of the Aeschelus play Prometheus Bound, for publication in her 1850 work Poems,
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