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287.  EBB to Henry Cotes [1]

An amended version of the text that appeared in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 2, 112.

To the Revd H Cotes–Hope End

March 8th 1828.

Sir,

I received yr criticisms from Mrs Hedley who was unwilling that I shd lose such an opportunity of being interested & instructed: &, tho you may justly complain that, in addition to yr voluntary trouble of writing those criticisms, the trouble of reading a letter shd be imposed upon you, yet I will hope that yr indulgence towards my poem may be extended to its writer on this occasion. I am much gratified by the general character of yr observations, & sincerely thank you for a good opinion rendered so valuable to be [sic, for me] by the openness & unreserve with which you have mentioned what you departed from & condemned. May I venture to speak to you with equal freedom—& to explain exactly, where I at once submit to “kiss the rod” & where I shd like to escape doing so. Mrs Hedley has told me that on reading the preface a second time, yr first impression was changed, or at least a good deal modified: in that case, perhaps I shd not agree with you so well as in a contrary one, for I do think “the preface is abstruse & labored”: a little additional experience has made me sensible of that fault—tho’ not of having adopted “uncouth words.” I can find out no word apparently deserving such an epithet.

In p. 8, the punctuation, not the grammar, is in fault. The lines shd stand thus

 

“Behold afar! The playmate of the storm,

Wild Niagara, lifts his awful form–

Spits &c[”]

Milton says in Comus “Stygian darkness spits her deepest gloom” [2] —but whether spits be defensible or not, it is doing too much honor to my “bombast” to send it away in company with Virgil’s “fustian.” Surely the description of Etna is very fine; & however the associations of a word may be objected to, the majestic & elevated diction keeps the whole out of bathos: at least I think so. Virgil is not often originally sublime,—but he knew absolutely nothing of the “Art of sinking.”

P. 8. l 14. I do not find any “incorrectness of person” here,—which if it exist in this place, must also exist in the last line of the invocation. In the invocation, the “Thing of light” i.e. the intellectual Faculty—is called upon to describe “The unequal powers, the various forms of mind”

 

that is to say, her own vanities & inequalities.

At pages 9 & 10, you have written with reference to the eulogy on Ld Byron, “All Trash”—which I propose reading “Half trash” inasmuch as half the eulogy (& the half containing yr quotation) is applied to Campbell. If I had said that Ld Byron “touched the heart & won the judgement too”, my trash wd have been unquestionable, & I shd indeed have contradicted my own censure of Gibbon. [3] But as the verses stand, I do not think I do this. I speak of the passion & sublimity of Ld Byron’s Genius,—not of his moral & pious characteristics,—any reference to which, wd have brought to nothing, the whole point & force of my illustration. My object was to contrast Byron & Campbells respective characters as poets,—just as I had been contrasting Niagara & the Avon: & if I had said “Lord Byron is neither moral nor religious” I shd have made as inapposite a remark as if I had told my readers “Niagara is in neither Europe nor Africa.” But I am afraid you will not admit any further modification of yr decision upon the verses: & if they remain Half trash, I may console myself with Hesiods assurance of half’s being better than the whole.”

In page 10, you propose the omission of 6 lines. The lines may be bad: but I consult the meaning, & think them better than nothing.

p. 14. “Broke the bright light” &c. The proposed substitute poured, hardly appears to me to convey the idea a sudden mediation so expressively as the original word. Does Parnell think it “grammatically bad”?–

 

But silence here the beauteous angel broke

The voice of music ravished as he spoke. Hermit

P. 17. When my verses are here & in other places, “too metaphysical”, it is but fair that the necessities of my subject shd take half the blame.

P 18 l 10. I do not think “The age is seen point &c &c” grammatically incorrect. A poetical license justifies the omission of the sign of the infinitive (to) between two adjacent verbs: thus Beattie, “His soul her graces ’gan unfold” or W Raleigh’s “Come live with me.”

P. 19 l 9. “Bade” the 3d person of the perfect tense is used in the place of the participle hidden, by a very common poetical license: as in Garth

 

More he had spoke, but sudden vapours rise. Dispensary

or Dryden—

 

And so the fragrant brier was wove between. Flower & leaf.

P. 22. l. 2. Īllǔstrate is not right: but, not quite perceiving the appropriateness of verify, I propose an opposition candidate .. vindicate.

P. 22. l. 11. You allow yr remark to be a hyper-criticism,—& yet I am doubtful whether I shd or shd not, wipe it “from the table of my memory.”

P. 27. There is certainly an inaccuracy in the lines on Miller. And below, in abodes[.]

P. 28. l 15. If man be “child of all time yet creature of an hour,” need I point out the antithesis?

note k. I must continue to think Gray more ingenious than ingenous in putting his question—which he puts with point & force—sacrificing none of his vanity in doing so. Humility is sometimes a proud thing: & Gray’s humility seems to me particularly proud. He had a contempt for metaphysical & mathematical pursuits, & wd not change his “poet’s eye” for the optics of a cat or an eagle.

P. 35. last line. I acknowledge this to be obscure & objectionable. I meant to say that Buffon’s meditation upon matter reduced his judgement to a level with his theme—i.e. with matter—in its coldness & insensibility.

P. 36. l 14. Does the fable make the owl & eagle meet in the sun? I am sorry for it—for both their sakes?

P. 47, l. 7. Ye is certainly “very bad”.

l. 8. Passionless seems to convey my meaning better than the proposed word sapient. Is there an objection to the introduction of an additional syllable into heroic verse? Such an addition varies the monotony,—& is at any rate, sanctioned by high authorities—by Milton, in Comus,

 

“Infamous hills & sandy perilous wastes”–

P. 48. l 10. “The very words of St Paul” would be “better”.

P 49 l 2. I am sorry to find the critic remarking that “there is no such word” as “writ”—particularly as “what is writ, is writ,” in Childe Harold.

P. 53. l. 5. I mean that Style may (as in Ld Bacons poetical disquisitions) animate & vivify abstract subjects.

P. 58. l 3. from bottom. “Thought” does not appear to me a correct substitute for “idea” in this place. “Mode” wd be better: but then it might be called “too metaphysical.”

P. 60. l 1. I can’t defend can’t. The proposed line exacts my thanks: it is a very animated improvement.

P. 60. l 7. The new reading i.e notion base for “low idea,” has (according to my notion) a rather familiar & vulgar association attached to it. Why shd all my ideas be put to flight in this manner?

P. 63. l 3. “For there are names of pride,—& they who bear”—that is to say, they who bear the names. The word “names,” is understood,—just as the pronoun is understood in the latter part of the following quotation from the Dunciad

 

“What walls can guard me, & what shades can hide?

P. 67. 2 first lines. I am sorry to dissent on this subject—but I must retain my opinion & my verses. Did Mr Cotes ever read Irving’s Prefatory Treatise to his translation of Ben Ezra?

P. 69. l 11. The ngs are certainly too numerous for the harmony.

P. 70. l. 2. ‘Classic’ is an unapt epithet as applied to the tome of Nature. I must have been thinking of a cockney Elzevir?!–

P 70 l 10. Here my Critic <is quite> [4] right—& my “midnight” quite wrong!–

P. 75 line last but one. Really infamous grammar!!–

P 79. l 3. from bottom. I meet this quære with another. Why is Pitt called a Heav’n born Minister?–

I earnestly hope that Mr Cotes may be able to endure this long infliction—& that he will impute the freedom with which I have replied to the interesting paper before me, to any other cause than want of deference to his judgement. He spoke quite openly: damus et vicissim: for his useful & flattering remarks, (tho’ I have not the pleasure of his personal acquaintance) equally require my frankness & my thanks.

I remain

his respectful & obliged servt

E B Barrett.

Between finishing my letter & beginning this postcript, I have read the new poem, Montgomery “on the omnipresence of the Deity,” just published. It is odd that I shd find in it, the very expression I have been sacrificing to Mr Cotes’s displeasure—i.e. “midnight heath.” There is however, no consequent change of wind in my opinion,—& my Iphigenia may remain on the altar!–

Publication: BC, 2, 112 (in part).

Source: Author’s copy at Armstrong Browning Library.

1. The Rev. Henry Cotes (1759?-1835), author of Lent Sermons (1813), was Vicar of Bedlington, Northumberland, from 1788 until his death.

2. Line 132.

3. In An Essay on Mind, lines 268ff. Line 273 characterized Edward Gibbon (1737–94), the historian, as “Blind to the light of nature and of God.”

4. Interpolated above deleted “may be”.

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