BROWNING, Elizabeth Barrett (1806-1861). Unpublished autograph letter signed ('E.M. Barrett') to Hugh Stuart Boyd (in London), Sidmouth, 8 May 1835, 3½ pages, 4to, address panel, small green wax seal (seal tear, repaired, slightly browned in folds, silked).
An unpublished letter from a series which Elizabeth Barrett wrote to H.S. Boyd between March and October 1835, advocating religious toleration and challenging his views on Calvinism.
'I believe the doctrine of election to be a dark mystery, which, until we behold the face of God, no shining is bright enough to dispel. I believe it to be so, not from speculation but from fact. Here is the church of God, holding the "elements of faith" with firm and clasped hands, but the doctrine severs the clasp, whenever it is tendered: and half the church abides by one interpretation & half by another. And yet there is no difficulty. Then why does the church disagree? And yet the difficulty is not by the will of God? Then why is it, at all? or how can it be? ... My belief is, that it is a difficult doctrine & as difficult, not essential; & difficult because God's will is to try the faith of his people by mysteries in grace as well as by mysteries in Providence ... I believe therefore that whatever portion of the church receives the true interpretation of election (one interpretation must be true) does so by the teaching of the Spirit of God ... Why should dear Mr Boyd speak so bitterly of Calvinists? Why should they not be his "beloved Calvinists" as well as mine? Are they not the beloved of one Father & one Saviour? And why am I not to look at "the holy lives & devotedness of some Calvinists"?'.
Written with a mixture of self-confidence and self-deprecation, the letter opens on an apologetic note for some misunderstanding, and ends with a forthright criticism of Boyd's reliance on 'human testimony'and learning rather than on 'the Spirit as teacher', while referring to herself in the same paragraph as 'being so impertinent'. Elizabeth Barrett first corresponded with the blind scholar H.S. Boyd (1781-1848), who lived near to Hope End, in 1827, when he wrote to her on reading her Essay on Mind. He taught her Greek, and she frequently visited him and read to him. They corresponded frequently, and on her part with great intensity, on intellectual matters, and Elizabeth held him in an almost obsessive and sometimes jealous regard. When the Barretts moved to Sidmouth in August 1832 the Boyds had already left Herefordshire for Bath, eventually moving to London. A published letter of 24 June 1835 shows that her outspokenness was forgiven, and Boyd had sent her a copy of his book on the 'atonement', although she persists in her defence of Calvinism.
The letter is unpublished apart from one sentence from a Sotheby's sale catalogue of 28 February 1910 (lot 2), quoted by Kelley and Hudson.