[SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGUESE] POEMS

(London: Chapman & Hall, 185o).

RARE IN THIS CONDITION AND THE FIRST EDITION OF SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGUESE, ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING’S MOST CELEBRATED POETRY. VERY UNCOMMON AND ELUSIVE. Barrett Browning was initially hesitant to publish the poems, believing they were too personal. However, her husband Robert Browning insisted they were the best sequence of English-language sonnets since Shakespeare's time and urged her to publish them. To offer the couple some privacy, she decided to publish them as if they were translations of foreign sonnets. She initially planned to title the collection "Sonnets translated from the Bosnian", but Browning proposed that she claim their source was Portuguese, probably because of her admiration for Camões and Robert's nickname for her: "my little Portuguese". The title is also a reference to Les Lettres Portugaises (1689).
Her 1844 volume Poems had made her one of the most popular writers in the country, and inspired Robert Browning to write to her. He wrote, "I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett," praising their "fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought."
John Kenyon, a wealthy friend of the family and patron of the arts, arranged for Browning to meet Elizabeth on 20 May 1845 in her rooms, and so began one of the most famous courtships in literature. Elizabeth had already produced a large amount of work, but Browning had a great influence on her subsequent writing, as did she on his: two of Barrett's most famous pieces were written after she met Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese and Aurora Leigh. Robert's Men and Women is also a product of that time.
Elizabeth opposed slavery and published two poems highlighting the barbarity the institution and her support for the abolitionist cause: "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point"; and "A Curse for a Nation". In "Runaway" she describes an enslaved woman who is whipped, raped, and made pregnant as she curses her enslavers.
Browning’s poetry was critically and publicly acclaimed while she was alive; she was considered Wordsworth’s successor as Poet Laureate upon his death. However, Browning’s very advanced ideas will appeal to readers of this generation. Browning was sympathetic to the ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft, politically progressive in her views and in the literary realm, transformed poetic style and content. Thus, her work is by no means a mere curiosity but rather representative of the highest literary and intellectual achievements.

Two of her most famous poems, from SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGUESE:

Number 43

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise;
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith;
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Number 33

Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear
The name I used to run at, when a child,
From innocent play, and leave the cowslips piled,
To glance up in some face that proved me dear
With the look of its eyes. I miss the clear
Fond voices, which, being drawn and reconciled
Into the music of Heaven's undefiled,
Call me no longer. Silence on the bier,
While I call God...call God!—So let thy mouth
Be heir to those who are now exanimate:
Gather the north flowers to complete the south,
And catch the early love up in the late!
Yes, call me by that name,—and I, in truth,
With the same heart, will answer, and not wait. Item #31862

2 volumes. New Edition. The FIRST EDITION of SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGUESE. 8vo, handsomely bound in contemporary polished calf, the spines with raised bands gilt tooled, the compartments of the spines with richly gilt panels incorporating floral tools at their centers, two compartments with contrasting brown and maroon lettering labels gilt, board edges gilt tooled, tunovers fully roll tooled in gilt, marbled endleaves, all edges gilt. xii, 362, [1];viii, 480 pp. A handsome and pleasing and honest set in rare period binding, showing the small blind stamp to the verso of the front marbled free-fly of each volume, by Simms & Dinham Booksellers who were active in Manchester, England during the 1840's and 1850's. The calf bindings strong and very well preserved, slight rubbing to the extremities, the spines with light rubbing to the gilt from handling, one label slightly chipped, the other a touch rubbed at the base. The books are clean throughout with none of the foxing that is often present.

Price: $8,500.00