"BY DESIRE OF THE OWNER OF THIS BOOK, I APPEND MY NAME, WITH PLEASURE": FIRST EDITION OF ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING'S POEMS, 1844, WARMLY INSCRIBED BY HER HUSBAND, ACCLAIMED POET ROBERT BROWNING, AFTER HER DEATH, THE COPY OF ANDREW CARNEGIE'S WIFE, PHILANTHROPIST LOUISE WHITFIELD CARNEGIE, WITH HER BOOKPLATES, BEAUTIFULLY BOUND BY ZAEHNSDORF
BROWNING, Elizabeth Barrett. Poems. London: Edward Moxon, 1844. Two volumes. Small octavo, late 19th-century full brown morocco, elaborately gilt-decorated spines, raised bands, patterned endpapers, all edges gilt. Housed in a custom soft-lined clamshell box. $17,500.
First edition, mixed issue, one of only 1500 copies printed, warmly inscribed by Barrett's husband, the poet Robert Browning, after her death: "By desire of the owner of this book, I append my name, with pleasure. Robert Browning. March 25-'86." The copy of Louise Whitfield Carnegie, a prominent philanthropist and the wife of Andrew Carnegie, with her bookplates, beautifully bound in full morocco-gilt by Zaehnsdorf.
Published the year before her courtship with Robert Browning began and six years after the critical and public success of The Seraphim, Elizabeth Barrett's Poems "was so highly regarded that, when Wordsworth died in 1850, her name was widely canvassed as his most appropriate successor as poet laureate" (Drabble, 138). This edition does not contain "Sonnets from the Portuguese," first published in the 1850 second edition, but does contain many of Browning's best-loved poems. Without advertisements. Mixed issue, with corrected text in Volume I on p. 141 ("Let your flood / Of bitter scorn dash on me!"), correct page numbers in Volume II pp. 160 and 163, and "The End" on last page of text. "Not only do copies exist containing mixed sheets of each impression, but also most 'sets' are made up of volumes from the different impressions" (Barnes A5). Wise 6. Hayward 239. This copy bears the inscription of Robert Browning, the supremely gifted poet, husband of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and "one of the most famous people in the English-speaking world" at the time of his death (DNB). It is unclear whether the original inscribee was Louise Whitfield Carnegie, Andrew Carnegie's wife and a distinguished philanthropist in her own right. While the volumes bear her bookplates, it appears that Carnegie first met Browning a year after this inscription, at least according to her own recollections. Carnegie attended Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee over the week of June 22, 1887. In a letter dated during the event, she wrote, "It is after 11 P. M., and I have only time for a few lines tonight. Have had friends to dinner. We have been here a week and are in a constant whirl. Have met more celebrities than I can count—the poet Robert Browning, and Edwin Arnold, writer John Morley and spent the day with Lord and Lady Rosebery at their place at Mentmore. Sunday we spent with the novelist William Black. Am charmed with all I meet, they are all so delightful, but the constant rush confuses me and I sometimes scarcely know whether I am on my head or my heels. People to lunch and dinner every day. I like it but my head doesn't stand it. It will though when I get used to it!" (letter by Louise Whitfield Carnegie, quoted in Louise Whitfield Carnegie: The Life of Mrs. Andrew Carnegie, 94). Whatever the case, this remains a most desirable inscribed copy with a fascinating association.
Interior fine, slight rubbing and toning to extremities, front joint of Volume I partially split. Near-fine condition.