Saturday, April 28, 2012

April 28

April 28 1843 Miss Barrett sends a long letter to an American magazine publisher, Cornelius Matthews, on a myriad of subjects:

"My dear Mr. Mathews,—In replying to your kind letter I send some more verse for Graham's, praying such demi-semi-gods as preside over contributors to magazines that I may not appear over-loquacious to my editor. Of course it is not intended to thrust three or four poems into one number. My pluralities go to you simply to 'bide your time,' and be used one by one as the opportunity is presented. In the meanwhile you have received, I hope, a short letter written to explain my unwillingness to apply, as you desired me at first, to Wiley and Putnam—an unwillingness justified by what you told me afterwards. I did not apply, nor have I applied, and I would rather not apply at all. Perhaps I shall hear from them presently. The pamphlet on International Copyright is welcome at a distance, but it has not come near me yet; and for all your kindness in relation to the prospective gift of your works I thank you again and earnestly. You are kind to me in many ways, and I would willingly know as much of your intellectual habits as you teach me of your genial feelings. This 'Pathfinder' (what an excellent name for an American journal!) I also owe to you, with the summing up of your performances in it, and with a notice of Mr. Browning's 'Blot on the Scutcheon,' which would make one poet furious (the 'infelix Talfourd') and another a little melancholy—namely, Mr. Browning himself. There is truth on both sides, but it seems to me hard truth on Browning. I do assure you I never saw him in my life—do not know him even by correspondence—and yet, whether through fellow-feeling for Eleusinian mysteries, or whether through the more generous motive of appreciation of his powers, I am very sensitive to the thousand and one stripes with which the assembly of critics doth expound its vocation over him, and the 'Athenaeum,' for instance, made me quite cross and misanthropical last week. The truth is—and the world should know the truth—it is easier to find a more faultless writer than a poet of equal genius. Don't let us fall into the category of the sons of Noah. Noah was once drunk, indeed, but once he built the ark.

In regard to critical papers of mine, I would willingly give myself up to you, seeing your good nature; but it is the truth that I never published any prose papers at all except the series on the Greek Christian poets and the other series on the English poets in the 'Athenaeum' of last year, and both of which you have probably seen. Afterwards I threw up my brief and went back to my poetry, in which I feel that I must do whatever I am equal to doing at all. That life is short and art long appears to us more true than usual when we lie all day long on a sofa and are as frightened of the east wind as if it were a tiger. Life is not only short, but uncertain, and art is not only long, but absorbing. What have I to do with writing 'scandal' (as Mr. Jones would say) upon my neighbour's work, when I have not finished my own? So I threw up my brief into Mr. Dilke's [publisher of the Athenaeum] hands, and went back to my verses. Whenever I print another volume you shall have it, if Messrs. Wiley and Putnam will convey it to you...

And so, you made merry with my scorn of my 'Prometheus.' Believe me—believe me absolutely—I did not strike that others might spare, but from an earnest remorse. When you know me better, you will know, I hope, that I am true, whether right or wrong, and you know already that I am right in this thing, the only merit of the translation being its closeness. Can I be of any use to you, dear Mr. Mathews? When I can, make use of me. You surprise and disappoint me in your sketch of the Boston poet, for the letter he wrote to me struck me as frank and honest. I wonder if he made any use of the verses I sent him; and I wonder what I sent him—for I never made a note of it, through negligence, and have quite forgotten."

What a great letter. I find this letter fascinating because it shows her as a business woman, writing as an equal to a man, proffering her poems for sale, offering to be of help to the publisher, explaining her point of view on poetry and poets, her dislike of reviewing other writers and explaining her disdain for her own translation of 'Prometheus', etc. Of course her defense of Browning, two years prior to their first letter, shows that she was totally immersed in the contemporary poetry scene. This is but an excerpt of the letter, she also discusses the merits of the English penny post and the relative merit of international copyright laws, which were practically non existent at this time. Go here to read the whole letter.

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