THE CORRESPONDENCE OF ROBERT BROWNING AND JULIA WEDGWOOD, including:
BROWNING, Robert (1812-1889). Thirty-two autograph letters signed, including twenty-nine to Julia Wedgwood, two to Mrs Wedgwood (her mother) and one to Isabella Blagden, mostly London and France, 9 December 1863 - 14 June 70 (including some n.d.), approximately 100 pages, 8vo, and:
WEDGWOOD, Frances Julia (1833-1913). Forty-four autograph letters signed to Robert Browning, mostly London, 14 May 1864 - 12 July 70, approximately 204 pages, 8vo (including 3 retained drafts of one letter, several letters on mourning paper, integral blanks removed, traces of former mounting on verso, a few indentations from paper clips); and 8 autograph letters signed to Eliza Wedgwood (her niece), 8 March 88 - 10 June 10, approximately 45 pages, 8vo; and 2 letters by Hope Wedgwood (her sister) to Eliza Wedgwood (1913); one letter by Ralph Wedgwood (1937); two letters by Eliza Wedgwood (1937 and 1940) and letters by Ruth Draper (one) and another, relating to the acquisition of the correspondence by Halsted Vander Poel in 1940.
Provenance: The correspondence of Robert Browning and Julia Wedgwood: bequeathed by Julia Wedgwood to Mrs Godfrey Wedgwood (Hope Wedgwood, her younger sister); Mrs Mary Mosley (Hope's daughter); Parke-Bernet sale, 21-22 November 1938, lot 37, $1,150; Halsted Vander Poel. Julia Wedgwood's letters to Eliza Wedgwood and the remaining correspondence were given by Eliza Wedgwood to Halsted Vander Poel in 1940.
ONE OF ROBERT BROWNING'S MOST EXTRAORDINARY AND WIDE-RANGING CORRESPONDENCES. Beginning shortly after their first meeting, and drawn together by mutual sympathy for each other's bereavement (Julia Wedgwood's brother died early in 1864), Browning's letters in particular range over subjects including his first discovery of Elizabeth Barret Browning's 'Sonnets from the Portuguese', his frequent recollections of her, the composition of his poems, his conception of literary characters (a long letter on Tennyson's Enoch Arden, with a counter-opinion from Miss Wedgwood), his travels in France with his son, his reactions to contemporary writers and events, the deaths of Keats and of Landor, a tiff with Lord Houghton, and numerous other subjects, the letters before March 1865 written with great spontaneity and intimacy, the later letters more distant and sometimes irritable. Miss Wedgwood's letters reflect her wide reading and perception as a critic, with an increasing intensity in her enquiries about Browning and his thoughts of Elizabeth. A rift between them was provoked by her letter of 1 March 1865. The correspondence was revived in 1868 but in a lower key, and with only infrequent exchanges.
'You know that I feel for you from my heart. Three years ago, in this very week, I lost my own soul's companion' (Browning, 25 June 1864). 'I am unused to this way of direct transfusion of souls. Understand what you can - and you will' (Browning, 25 July 1864). 'I came upon some of those "Sonnets from the Portuguese" the other day in an old "Blackwood" - you ought to have taken that review to leave a good taste after the "Edinburgh". By the bye, what do you think of Tennyson's arrogance ...' (Julia Wedgwood, 1 November 1864). 'Yes, that was a strange heavy crown that wreath of Sonnets, put on me one morning unawares ... she [Elizabeth] said hesitatingly "Do you know I once wrote some poems about you?" - and then - "There they are if you care to see them" -- and there was the little Book I have here -- with the last Sonnet dated two days before our marriage' (Browning, n.d.).
'I have been intending to write to you for several days dear friend, to say ... that it would be better that we did not meet again just now, at least that you did not come here ... I have reason to know that my pleasure in your company has had an interpretation put upon it that I ought not to allow' (Julia Wedgwood, 1 March 1865). Browning's last letter (14 June 1870) replies to one in which Julia remarks 'You owe us an adequate translation of what your wife was to you', an obligation he strongly denies.
Julia Wedgwood was the great-granddaughter of Josiah Wedgwood and Darwin's niece by marriage. Clever but plain, and something of a recluse, when she met Browning in 1863 he was 51 and she 30. They met probably through her brother, James Mackintosh Wedgwood whose death, through their expressions of sympathy and spiritual consolation, allowed their friendship to become more intense and, on Julia's part, more engaging. She then resolved to break it off: three retained drafts of her letter of 1 March 1865 are present. Although their correspondence was resumed, the familiarity and ease of the earlier letters was lost. None of Browning's women friends was permitted to forget that his love was reserved for Elizabeth.
The Browning - Wedgwood correspondence is published in A Broken Friendship, ed. Richard Curle (1937).