“The Truth Is –It Is An Immature & Imperfect Work”: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s New Objects In The Collection

by Rachel Jacob, Armstrong Browning Library Graduate Research Assistant

As the library with the largest collection of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning materials, the Armstrong Browning Library is continually seeking out and acquiring new items to strengthen the collection. Every new material acquired gives an insight into the lives of the Brownings, the society in which they lived, or the legacy they left behind. In 2020, the Library was able to acquire three new items which focus on Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The African

Manuscript of ‘The African’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The first is a poem in two cantos, “The African,” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This is a lesser-known work by Barrett Browning about a once African prince who is now enslaved in Jamaica. The poem was inspired by Barrett Browning’s first cousin once removed, Richard Barrett, when he told a story of a runaway slave. This acquisition was made possible with an endowment established by Margaret Cox. 

A Portrait of Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Contemporary copy of Charles Hayter’s portrait of Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The second is a portrait of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The painting portrays Elizabeth Barrett Browning followed by a dog carrying her hat. They are entering the porch at Hope End near Ledbury, Herefordshire. This is an oil on canvas in its original 19th-century rosewood frame. It is a contemporary oil copy of Charles Hayter’s original portrait; however, there is speculation as to whether this was created by Arabella Moulton-Barrett, Barrett Browning’s sister, or Pen Browning, her son. If you are visiting the Armstrong Browning Library you can see works by the two artists and decide for yourself. Moulton-Barrett painted the top of the sewing table in the Elizabeth Barrett-Browning Salon. Pen Browning has artwork all over the library, including in the stairwell. This acquisition was made possible with an endowment established by Margaret Cox. 

A Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Louis Cappel

The final acquisition is a letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This letter, dated 29 July 1843, is to Louis Cappel, Pastor of St. George’s German church in London. Louis Cappel had recently received a copy of her translation of Prometheus as a gift from Barret Browning’s brother Edward. In this letter, Elizabeth Barrett Browning corrects Cappel’s incorrect assumption that Prometheus was a gift from her. Instead, she writes, “The truth is –it is an immature & imperfect work […] thus I cast it behind my own back, & never make gifts of it to others. May it perish!” She then offers him a copy of The Seraphim, and Other Poems to make amends. We also have that copy of The Seraphim in our collection. This letter was a gift to the Baylor University English Department in Honor of Dr. Dianna Vitanza. 

Gift from Elizabeth Barret Browning to Louis Cappel

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