“HOW DO I LOVE THEE? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS”: FIRST PRINTING OF ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING’S SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGUESE—VERY RARE FIRST STATE—HANDSOMELY BOUND
BROWNING, Elizabeth Barrett. Poems. New Edition. London: Chapman & Hall, 1850. Two volumes. 12mo, contemporary full burgundy morocco gilt, elaborately gilt-decorated spines, covers gilt-stamped “S.M. in memory of E.C.,” raised bands, all edges gilt.
The important second edition, containing the first appearance of E.B. Browning’s famous love poems to her husband, Sonnets from the Portuguese, which did not appear in the 1844 first edition of Poems. This copy in the very rare first state, not seen by Browning’s bibliographer Barnes, who wrote “the first state of the book must be extremely rare, for as late as 1963 only 3 copies were located.” A beautiful copy in lovely contemporary full morocco-gilt.
This enlarged edition of Browning’s Poems is rightly considered an entirely separate work from the 1844 first edition. It includes, in addition to the Sonnets from the Portuguese, a number of poems here printed or collected for the first time. “The strange courtship of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett is one of the most romantic stories in 19th-century literature. What Browning did not know is that while Elizabeth was lying on that famous sofa in her father’s house on Wimpole Street she was pouring out her heart in some of the most remarkable love poetry ever written by a woman. One morning some time later, when they were living in Pisa, Elizabeth Browning pushed a packet under her husband’s arm, asked him to read the sonnets it contained and, should he disapprove, destroy them. Then she rushed from the room. Browning sat there and read with ever-growing wonder. Even before he had finished he hurried to his wife and demanded their publication. To shelter her feelings it was pretended that the sonnets had been translated from the Portuguese” (Great Books and Book Collectors, 239). This is the very rare first state of the second edition, with publisher’s imprint at the foot of the title page reading “CHAPMAN & HALL, 186, STRAND.” [Most read “193, PICCADILLY | (LATE 186 STRAND.)”] Of this first state bibliographer Warner Barnes writes, “Not seen. Description furnished from photocopy provided by the Lilly Library? The first state of the book must be extremely rare, for as late as 1963 only 3 copies were located, and none were present in any library I visited. There is no evidence that the book was actually ‘issued’ after its publication in the two forms described and the scarcity of copies suggests that the title page was reset prior to publication. One copy is at the Cambridge University Library” (Barnes, 39). Barnes A6. Wise 7.
A beautiful copy in handsome contemporary full morocco-gilt. Rare and very desirable.