It is believed that sometime between 1845-1846 Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a collection of 44 sonnets. These sonnets eventually came to be published in 1850 under the title Sonnets From the Portuguese at the encouragement of her husband, the poet playwright Robert Browning. Elizabeth is known for wanting to keep these love sonnets private, since they were written only for her husband’s eyes. Robert claimed her sonnets comparable to Shakespeare and pushed Elizabeth into publishing them. Elizabeth agreed as long as they were published with the deceptive title Sonnets From the Portuguese, which were never written by a Portuguese person or translated from Portuguese. “My little Portuguese,” is a pet name Bobby used for Ba, or Bette (pronounced bet-TEA for reasons). Or so the story of the Barrett Browning couple goes…
A Taurus born 6 March 1806, Elizabeth's world saw: Anglo-Spanish and Napoleonic Wars transatlantic slave trade about to be outlawed from anywhere in the British Empire Lewis and Clark on their journey home after reaching the Pacific Ocean Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire's death the Holy Roman Empire collapse after almost a millennium Webster publish his first dictionary the birth of the man who was later to create the concord grape (Ephraim Wales Bull) and George III (yes, THAT George III) as king
At age 39/40, Elizabeth's world saw: her first meeting with Robert Browning Edgar Allen Poe publishes The Raven the United States annexes Texas cholera pandemic the Great famine in Ireland Wagner's Tannhäuser opera debut first Anglo-Sikh war the saxophone is patented by Adolphe Sax Victoria is queen Elizabeth and Robert marry on September 12, 1846
At age 44, Elizabeth's world saw: the Britannia Bridge open across the Menai Straights in Wales a hippopotamus arrive to the London Zoo (not seen in England since Roman times) Taiping Rebellion Rudolf Clausius publishes the basic ideas of second law of thermodynamics Great Famine in Ireland begins to subside British Raj transfer monies to Persian Shia Islamic holy cities historic Pacific Highway begins development in Washington State Cesár Ritz born William Wordsworth's death her little boy, Pen, turn 1-year-old Sonnets from the Portuguese published
82 years later, in 1932, Grosset & Dunlap (now part of Penguin Random House) of New York City published a Cameo Classics edition of Sonnets from the Portuguese. The Cameo Classics books, according to an unattributed faculty blog from Ohio Weslyan University, this series of books started out being sold for $.69 each (about $14 value today). The Cameo Classics edition measures 8.5×5.5inches, 110 pages with silhouette illustrations. The book is hard-bound in blue fabric with gold gilt lettering on the spine and a Guttenberg medal inset on the front cover. The black slipcase for the book has a blue printed graphic glued to the front showcasing an illustration from the book, with an alligator skin treatment to the back of the case.
Sometime between 1932 and 1936, David Stewart purchased this book and gifted it to Emily Bond Anderson with “Best Wishes for Valentine’s Day.”
On Wednesday, August 12, 1936 at 1:00am, “In the Country,” David penned a “Series to E.” titled: Meditations. This took David 5 pages to write in precise 30 paragraphed flowing handwriting, finishing with the word, “END.” David has used some red pen for emphasis on the words, “TO,” “FROM,” “WITH,” and underlining a few phrases on page 14 of the book.
85 years later, on a sweet Montessori Mafia at the park playground afternoon, I picked up the Cameo Classics 1932 edition of Sonnets from The Portuguese at our little community bookswap on the worn picnic table underneath the green topped timber-pitched shelter. I found this copy from David to Emily with David’s 5 page note tucked inside. Nobody at the park knows who David or Emily are.
What I know so far is that the book looks to have been moved about multiple times with wearing on the spine and book case as if it’s been pulled on and off of many shelves many, many times with a careless coffee/teacup stain on the case illustration. But the book inside appears to have hardly been opened or read at all. There are no creases. The gluing and spine are intact like a new book. The 5 page note from David to E. also appears to have never been opened or read.
It feels like… magic
Love, Ms Herisme xoxo
to be continued…