Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Working Notebooks Lead Bonhams NY Sale

[2] copy.jpgNEW YORK —Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s 1835-1837 notebook containing drafts for every poem featured in her first significant collection of poetry The Seraphim and Other Poems (1838) leads Bonhams’ Fine Books & Manuscripts sale (10:30 am on March 9). Revealing her journey from Romantic poet to Progressive political voice, the notebook is estimated at $400,000-600,000.

Barrett Browning was a prominent English poet of the Victorian era whose liberal stances on slavery and child labor resonated with readers throughout Britain and the United States.

This significant collection of drafts includes extensive additions, deletions, and emendations, reflecting her search and discovery of the incipient strength of her developing voice. Often referring to the Greek tragedies, this first collection of poems, speaks to her early Christian sentiments which she described as “not the deep persuasion of the mild Christian but the wild visions of an enthusiast.”

Born in Coxoe Hall, Durham, England in 1806, Barrett taught herself Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, while still a young girl, read Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and later paired her love for the classics with activities at the Bible and Missionary Societies of her church. 

In her later works, Barrett reveals her long held political beliefs, speaking against slavery—her father owned a slave-run plantation in Jamaica—, child labor, and the paternal bidding to control women. Also up for auction, is an autographed manuscript and working draft of Poems Before Congress, estimated at $180,000-250,000. In the last and most controversial of Barrett Browning’s published works, seven of the poems discuss local politics and call for the independence of Italy, where she was a longtime resident. The eighth poem, "A Curse for a Nation," is an attack on American slavery, was largely seen as anti-British. A rarity in her time as an outspoken female political poet, Barrett Browning prefaces this collection: "What I have written has simply been written because I love truth and justice quand meme 'more than Plato' and Plato's country.”

Other highlights include:

  • An autographed manuscript and draft of her revised translation the Aeschylus play Prometheus Bound, which was included in her lauded 1850 book Poems, is estimated at $200,000-300,000.
  • An early autographed Barret Browning manuscript from early English poets, including Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spencer, John Fletcher, estimated at $40,000-60,000.

Bonhams’ Business Development Director of the Books & Manuscripts, Tom Lamb, said, “Rarely seen on the market, these Barrett Browning notebooks and manuscripts would be an excellent addition to any literary collection. Her layered edits and re-edits reveal nuances of her working methods and influences, and further illuminate her dexterity as a shining female voice of early 19th century Europe.”

Image: Elizabeth Barrett Browning 1806-1861 autograph manuscript, a working draft of Poems Before Congress is estimated at $180,000-250,000

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