Thursday, August 28, 2008



Edmund Gosse Tells an Interesting Story of How They Were Named.

Edmund Gosse tells in his late essay on Mrs. Browning's sonnets how her volume of "Sonnets From the Portuguese" was christened, as follows: "During the months of their brief courtship, closing, as all the world knows, in the clandestine flight and romantic wedding of Sept. 12, 1846, neither poet showed any verses to the other. Mr. Browning in particular had not the smallest notion that the circumstances of their betrothal had led Miss Barrett into any artistic expression of feeling:

"Their custom was, Mr. Browning said, to write alone and not to show each other what they had written. This was a rule which he sometimes broke through, but she never. He had the habit of working in a down stairs room, where their meals were spread, while Mrs. Browning studied in a room on the floor above. One day, early in 1847, their breakfast being over, Mrs. Browning went up stairs, while her husband stood at the window watching the street till the table should be cleared. He was presently aware of some one behind him, although the servant was gone. It was Mrs. Browning, who held him by the shoulder to prevent his turning to look at her and at the same time pushed a packet of papers into the pocket of his coat. She told him to read that, and to tear it up if he did not like it, and then she fled to her own room.

"Mr. Browning settled himself at the table and unfolded the parcel. It contained the series of sonnets which have now become so illustrious. As he read his emotion and delight may he conceived. Before he had finished it was impossible for him to restrain himself, and, regardless of his promise, he rushed up stairs and stormed that guarded citadel. He was early conscious that these were treasures not to be kept from the world. 'I dared not reserve to myself,' he said, 'the finest sonnets written in any language since Shakespeare's.'

"When it was determined to publish the sonnets in the volumes of 1850, the question of a title arose. The name which was ultimately chosen, 'Sonnets From the Portuguese,' was invented by Mr. Browning as an ingenious device to veil the true authorship, and yet to suggest kinship with that beautiful lyric called 'Caterina to Camoens,' in which so similar a passion had been expressed. Long before he ever heard of these poems Mr. Browning called his wife his 'own little Portuguese,' and so, when she proposed 'Sonnets Translated From the Bosnian,' he, catching at the happy thought of 'translated,' replied: 'No, not Bosnian — that means nothing — but from the Portuguese. They are Caterina's sonnets.' And so, in half a joke. half a conceit, the famous title was invented."

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