A glimpse into the vibrant Victorian literary world

Barrett Browning, Elizabeth, English poet (1806-1861). Autograph letter signed ("EBB").

No place, 13. XII. 1843.

12mo. 6½ pp. on bifolia. With autograph envelope.


To Richard Hengist Horne on poetry and music: a glimpse into the vibrant Victorian literary world.

Barrett Browning draws a comparison between music and poetry, probably in answer to a question about the two arts. First, she compares Horne's best-known epic poem, "Orion", to Beethoven: "Orion is something more than playing on an instrument - it is composition in the manner of Beethoven, who was a poet if ever there was one". Apparently, Horne and Barrett Browning's mutual acquaintance Mary Russell Mitford thought music "should have been cultivated by" Horne "rather than poetry" (Mayer, 200), and thus the question which form of art is more suitable for Horne is a germane point. She further extols the greatness of poetry, claiming it should not be compared to other arts, for "Poetry contains them all". Therefore, "for a poet to prefer being a musician (even in the great composing sense) is an inconsequence of reason as well as an ingratitude of genius which I never seriously attributed to you". She continues to discuss the poet and novelist John Edmund Reade, stating that she is willing to pardon him because he is Horne's friend and she is "not a good hater", but "tolerably good tempered". She goes on to explain the reason of her displeasure with Reade's work: "My objection however to certain volumes, is not so much that they are Mr Reade’s, as that they are not his". She also offers her opinion on Monckton Milnes: "I admired his first volume very much - but his later poetry seems to want fire & imagination, & to strain too much at the didactic".

Barret Browning further mentions that she was glad to hear Horne had an extension for the book and that he had Tennyson's portrait. At the time this letter was written, Barrett Browning was helping Horne with a book he was editing, "A New Spirit of Age", published in 1844.


Christie's, 29 June 1995, lot 310.

Christie's, 15 December 2023, lot 77.


Mounted on tabs. Fold marks, paper repairs, browning, minor stains, pencil annotations.


T. Mayer (ed.), Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning addressed to Richard Hengist Horne, Vol 1 (London 1877), pp. 200-205, no. 31 (omitting some words and the final paragraph).