253.  EBB to Hugh Stuart Boyd

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 2, 35–36.

Hope End

March 2d 1827.


The poem [1] you judge so leniently was written at the age of eighteen—not sixteen: you must therefore allow me to disclaim, in limine, [2] any praise founded on that misconception. You must also allow me, before I speak more particularly on the subjects of your letter, to thank you very earnestly for the indulgence you have shewn towards my writings, & for the kind interest you express in my improvement. The enclosure, which is my attempted reply to the Greek verses you did me the honor of addressing to me, [3] should have gone before,—but I have been from home, & have since, been a good deal engrossed by several circumstances. I request you to extend the indulgence you have already been good enough to shew my compositions, to this enlosure. My classical studies have been very solitary & unassisted; & I must necessarily be deficient in delicacies which are subjects of investigation to critical scholars.

I am happy to have the opinion I ventured to form, & express to Mr Knowles, with regard to the Hamiltonian system, [4] confirmed by Mr Boyd. Mr Hamilton seems to me closely to resemble that Professor in Lagado, who, according to Swift, could teach the most ignorant persons to write books of philosophy, poetry, mathematics & theology “by a little bodily labour”. [5] There is however a difference; for Mr Hamilton is scarcely as original as the Laputan Philosopher, & certainly not as entertaining. Having endeavoured to consider the subject without prejudice,—for I should be sorry to walk in a beaten path merely because it was beaten,—the conclusion which forced itself on my understanding was this—that Mr Hamilton’s method is built on a mistake in philosophy,—on a misconception of the structure of language, & the nature of the human mind.

There is, indeed, a great deal of quackery in what you emphatically call the Age of Quackery, & what Lord Byron called, with some severe justice, the Age of bronze. Every body seems to think


“They will do such things

What they are,—yet,—they know not![”] [6]

& perhaps this feverish restlessness in the public mind may be the natural result of a real increase of knowledge & energy; as violent bodily exertion occasions, in some weak frames, spasms & nervous irritation.

I regret that the distance between Hope End & Malvern, & my own incapacity to walk or ride far, should present any thing like an obstacle to my availing myself immediately of Mr Boyd’s very kind offer of pointing out to me personally his objections to my Essay; but I do hope that I may, by some means, as the weather improves, have the pleasure of his acquaintance & conversation. No one is more strongly persuaded of my work’s imperfection than its writer,—& no one can be more solicitous to obtain, or more earnest in valuing, a fair & candid criticism. I should esteem it an advantage to be better acquainted with the general cast of your objections, not only to my matter, but to my style & versification– There seem however no means, exactly at hand, for my obtaining this advantage,—unless indeed,—tho’ I could not intrude such a request upon you,—you were kind enough to put on paper a few of your principal objections. I only wish I were likely to deserve them as little as I do the high opinion you have flattered me by expressing.

No poem has been written by me on the melancholy subject you allude to; & I am promising myself the immediate pleasure of becoming familiar with those compositions, relating to it, which you have published. [7]

I remain,


Your very obliged

E B Barrett.

Publication: None traced.

Manuscript: University of Texas.

1. An Essay on Mind.

2. “At the outset.”

3. EBB’s “attempted reply” is no longer with the letter, and so cannot be reproduced here.

4. James Hamilton (1769–1829) propounded a system to facilitate the teaching of languages. Several editions of the Gospels, and of various classical authors, “adapted to the Hamiltonian system” were published in the period 1824–29.

5. In Gulliver’s Travels, chapter V.

6. Cf. King Lear, II, 4, 280–282.

7. The “melancholy subject” was the death by lightning of two young ladies in July 1826, while picnicking at Malvern. Boyd’s verses on this incident were “A Day of Pleasure at Malvern,” included in Tributes to the Dead (1826), and A Malvern Tale (1827).


National Endowment for the Humanities - Logo

Editorial work on The Brownings’ Correspondence is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This website was last updated on 9-28-2023.

Copyright © 2023 Wedgestone Press. All rights reserved.