Correspondence

255.  EBB to Hugh Stuart Boyd

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 2, 37–39.

Hope End.

March 11th 1827.

Sir,

I thanked you, in my last note, for sending me your works,—& now, having read them, I have it in my power to thank you for the pleasure you have afforded me. As you desire me to mention which of the two poems on the calamity at Malvern, I prefer, I will frankly select the first, tho’ the “Malvern tale” has many lines that interest me; together with a smoothness of versification which is common in your writings. Your prologue & epilogue to St Gregory’s [1] poems are elegant; & your preface to that translation, attractive on several accounts. I am not ungrateful to the Elegy: but were I to say on what page I linger longest, I think I should turn at once to your translation from the Electra. It is beautifully executed, to the spirit as well as the letter; &, speaking of it, I may observe with Denham, that “words are not only rendered into words, but poetry into poetry.” [2] The last line pleased me least,—if I might say so without presumption! I think I should have liked the last line better, had you translated it more literally—had you written,

 

Because I do not see the dead lament!

instead of

 

“To me the dead appear exempt from woe.” [3]

Nothing is much more odious than a servile translation: but, in this instance, it seems hardly possible to preserve the striking and pathetic simplicity of the original, without adopting a verbal fidelity. I trust this observation to your indulgence: and stand of course, with regard to it, under your correction.

St Basil [4] writes fervently & eloquently: but do you not consider his style rather inflated?

Thank you for the trouble you have taken to explain your objection to that passage of my work, which relates to the possible extinction of England. [5] I will confess, at once, that I did the very reverse of the Heathen oracles—that I prophecied for the sake of poetry, instead of poetizing for the sake of prophecy: and my prophecy may deserve as much contempt as the oracular poetry does! Yet something might be urged in my defence. I allow (to make use of your words), that there exists “no instance of a nation being given up to ruin & extinction, while the people continued to labour for the extension of God’s glory.” But I might add, as truly, that there exists no instance of a people continuing to labour for the extension of God’s glory. Nevertheless I consent to give up all prophetical pretensions; &, sharing the fate of Cassandra, certainly deserve it much more than she did!

You must accept my thanks, & only my thanks, in return for your extremely kind invitation. I very seldom have it in my power to leave home, & the first time I am able to do so, must visit some friends to whom I am under a long engagement. It is therefore necessary for me to hope for other means by which, in the finer weather, I may have the advantage of your acquaintance. My health which you are good enough to enquire after, is not bad; but deficiency in strength makes me quite incapable of much exercise.

I am sorry not to be able to answer your questions respecting our West Indian connections, but I know hardly anything on the subject; & I cannot ask my Father, who has been for some time absent, & whose return is still uncertain.

You ask me how I “found out your name”. Perhaps I introduced a new reading into Propertius, & instead of “Certus eras, heu, heu!” read “Certè eras Hugh Hugh! [6]

Believe me,

Your obliged.

E B Barrett.

I take the liberty of enclosing to you a number of the Jewish Expositor, in which there are some lines of mine—the last I have published—signed with my initials. [7]

Address, on integral page: Hugh S. Boyd Esqr / Ruby Cottage [8] / Malvern Wells.

Docket, across fold from address, in an unidentified hand: March 11th / 27.

Publication: EBB-HSB, pp. 3–5.

Manuscript: Wellesley College. EBB’s draft is at the Armstrong Browning Library.

1. St. Gregory Nazianzen (ca. 329–389), one of the four Fathers of the Christian Church, was one of the principal theological writers studied by EBB with Boyd.

2. In 1656, Sir John Denham (1615–69) published The Destruction of Troy, a paraphrase of Vergil’s Æneid. In the preface, he advocated translating not only “Language into Language, but Poesie into Poesie.”

(In this note, and some others relating to the series of letters to Boyd, we have drawn on material researched by Barbara P. McCarthy for her book Elizabeth Barrett to Mr. Boyd. We here record our debt to her scholarship.)

3. Thoughts on an Illustrious Exile (1825), p. 42.

4. St. Basil (ca. 330–379), Bishop of Cæsarea, was a fellow student of St. Gregory Nazianzen. He was responsible for the reformation of the monastic orders in the Eastern Empire to emphasize an austere communal mode of life.

5. The lines beginning “Alas! alas! so, Albion shall decay,” in An Essay on Mind, bk. I, p. 20.

6. “You were right, alas, alas!” / “Surely you were Hugh, Hugh!” The former phrase is taken from Propertius’ Elegies, II, 24, 37.

7. The poem appeared without a title, under an epigraph: “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?”—Lamentations. First line: “Who art thou of the veilëd countenance.” (The Jewish Expositor and Friend of Israel, January 1827. Reprinted in HUP, II, 71–74.)

8. An inn close to Boyd’s house having been named after Admiral John Benbow (1653–1702), Ruby Cottage (more correctly, The Ruby) was named after the only ship of his squadron to support him in an action against the French in the West Indies in 1702, when the remaining five captains under his command mutinied.

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