Correspondence

1818.  EBB to Allan Park Paton

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 10, 30–31.

50 Wimpole Street

January 18. 1845.

I return you, Sir,[1] my very earnest thanks for the kindness you have done me, in addressing such gratifying words to me on the subject of my own poems,—& also, in placing yours within reach of my attention. I take shame to myself in the confession, that the first newspaper you sent to me, was sent in vain for the verses—inasmuch as, being occupied at the moment, & aware of the usual worthlessness of poetical insertions in journals, I was satisfied with barely running my eye down the four sides & with coming to a hasty conclusion that the paper had been sent to me in mistake for another. The verses I never once looked at, .. after one glance at the signature which said nothing. I tell you, you see, the whole truth,—& as it has probably happened to yourself again & again, to throw away a newspaper without examining the verses in it, .. I do trust you will forgive my giddiness in the matter. This time, I have read & considered!, & I may assure you that it shall never happen to me again to throw aside unread, any poem with the signature “Heather” in connection with it–[2] The poem, which I have read, is, to my mind & ear, full of promise. It has individuality & significance,—there is unity in the conception. The writer can think & feel, & has ideas upon Art—and will have strength, I am inclined to believe, to take his stand upon nature, by the force of his own mind & heart. What I least like, in the way of execution, (for the thought is beautiful) is the burden of the whole. Where the metre changes, some sense of artifice in construction & defect in harmony seems to force itself on the ear. Forgive me for criticising—but I speak the truth as I see the truth.

Also, I venture to bid you good cheer on the noble path of the poet, if you continue in strength & hope to pursue it. You will agree with me perhaps, that no pursuit in the world demands a more entire devotion of the Being & of the energies of the Being, than poetry does, .. & that it is not for the amateur.

The expressions you have the goodness to use in relation to my poems, give me pleasure, for which I thank you again in concluding this note– It is delightful to know from your testimony & from testimony like yours, that, although separated very far from my own ideal, I am encouraged by sympathy from without, to do better as I do more.

I remain, dear Sir,

Yours with respect,

Elizabeth B Barrett.

Publication: Kind Words From a Sick Room (Greenock, 1891), pp. 3–4.

Manuscript: Armstrong Browning Library.

1. Allan Park Paton, native of Greenock, Scotland, where he died 9 April 1905 at age 87. By profession a lawyer, Paton’s main interest was writing, and he was the librarian of the Greenock Library from 1868 until his retirement in 1894.

2. Paton was a regular contributor to his local newspaper, the Greenock Advertiser, under the pseudonym “Heather.” From January 1844 through May 1845, fourteen of his compositions appeared in the paper. These were collected in Poems which was published in 1845 (see letter 1828). Perhaps EBB is referring to “Past and Present,” which was the last poem published (31 December 1844) prior to this letter.

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