Poet's private letters of love to pottery heiress fetch £84,000
A COLLECTION of 73 letters lending fresh insight into the tormented soul of Robert Browning, one of Britain’s greatest poets, fetched £83,650 at Christie’s, in London, yesterday.
The correspondence - bought by a private collector bidding by telephone - reveals the unfulfilled love between Browning and another great intellectual of the Victorian age, Julia Wedgwood, 21 years his junior and the great grand-daughter of the celebrated potter Josiah Wedgwood.
Every detail of their close relationship - destined to remain undisclosed owing to the strict moral code of their age and the poet’s devotion to the memory of his late wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning - is examined in the letters which passed between them from 1863 to 1870.
"You know that I feel for you from my heart," writes Browning in June 1864, a year after their first meeting. "Three years ago, in this very week, I lost my own soul’s companion.
"Be assured that your friendship has always been precious to me, and that while I live it will be the most precious."
Miss Wedgwood, still mourning the recent death of her brother James, replies by return: "Your letter has been a gleam in the darkness of my mind today."
The letters continue throughout 1864 - but by November there are warnings of a crack in the intimacy of the relationship. Miss Wedgwood writes: "You know that all that is exceptional in our intercourse is my doing, not yours, that your part has merely been one of response, and that if there was any indiscretion, in taking up a position so liable to misconception, that was wholly on my side."
By March 1865, outside pressures proved too much and Miss Wedgwood tells Browning: "I have been intending to write to you for several days, dear friend, to say - what I do not say willingly - 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."
Although their correspondence continued, the familiarity and ease of the earlier letters was lost.
Tom Lamb, a manuscripts specialist at Christie’s, said yesterday: "Browning was devastated by the loss of his wife in 1861 and never got over it. None of his women friends was permitted to forget that his love was reserved for Elizabeth."
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