BROWNING, Elizabeth Barrett (1806-1861). Autograph manuscript (fair copy) of 'An Essay on Mind', n.p. [Hope End], n.d. [1825?], including the title page, preface, list of contents, and text of Books I and II, approximately 94 pages, 4to, mostly numbered in autograph, '1 - 8' (the preface) and '1 - 82', written on recto and verso; the first 6 leaves of Book I on wove paper, the remainder on laid paper with watermark of 1820; a few minor annotations in a different hand (presumably the publisher's); the leaves tipped into an album and slipcase, red morocco gilt, by Sangorski and Sutcliffe. Provenance: purchased from W. H. Robinson, London, 15 December 1937, £100.
THE MANUSCRIPT OF ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING'S FIRST SERIOUS ATTEMPT TO ADDRESS THE WORLD AS A POET AND TO EXPLORE THE WORKINGS OF THE POET'S MIND.
'In every theme, by lofty Poet sung,
The thought should seem to speak, and not the tongue.
When godlike Milton left the exalted song,
The subject bears the burning words along'.
The manuscript includes the 'Preface' as published but lacking the footnotes; 'Book I', including a few minor variants; and 'Book II' also including minor variants and, on page 57, six lines not in the published text. The title page is inscribed 'An Essay on Mind with other Poems' and the list of contents includes six poems (the manuscripts of which are not present).
The 'Essay on Mind', an essay in verse on the qualities, elements and abilities of the mind, is a work of remarkable self-confidence, displaying Elizabeth Barrett's precocious reading of philosophers and historians including, among others, Gibbon, Berkeley, Plato, Bolingbroke and Bacon. In her preface she describes the subject as chosen not out of 'presumption' but because 'the subject supports the writer as much as it is supported by him'. The 'Essay' itself includes her concern with the poet's task already briefly explored in the preface, and her analysis of the faculties of the creative mind, specifically invention, judgment and memory and 'Bold Association'. In one passage on the development of 'Genius' she implicitly measures her own precocity against that of others.
The composition of the 'Essay' probably began in November 1822. Her brother, Edward Moulton Barrett, writing to Elizabeth two years later, referred to her having '100 lines to finish' and in March 1825 recorded that she was busy correcting the manuscript. It was submitted to Charles Knight, and published anonymously by James Duncan, in March 1826, together with the six poems listed, and fourteen others. The publication was paid for by Elizabeth's grandmother's companion, Mary Trepsack, and although the immediate public response to the work was muted, it had the significant effect of persuading the Barrett family to regard her literary ambitions seriously. It led to her friendship with her early mentor, the Greek scholar, Hugh Stuart Boyd, and to her becoming acquainted with Sir Uvedale Price.
The earliest extant draft of 'An Essay on Mind' is in the Browning Collection of the University of Texas (Warner Barnes. Catalogue of the Browning Collection, 1966).