Very sincerely yours,
Besides the poems, to which reference has been made in the above letters, Miss Barrett was engaged, during the year 1843, in co-operating with her friend Mr. Home in the production of his great critical enterprise, ‘The New Spirit of the Age.’ In this the much daring author undertook no less a task than that of passing a sober and serious judgment on his principal living comrades in the world of letters. Not unnaturally he ended by bringing a hornets’ nest about his ears—alike of those who thought they should have been mentioned and were not, and of those who were mentioned but in terms which did not satisfy the good opinion of themselves with which Providence had been pleased to gift them. The volumes appeared under Home’s name alone, and he took the whole responsibility; but he invited assistance from others, and in particular used the collaboration of Miss Barrett to no small extent. She did not indeed contribute any complete essay to his work; but she expressed her opinion, when invited, on several writers, in a series of elaborate letters, which were subsequently worked up by Home into his own criticisms. The secret of her cooperation was carefully kept, and she does not appear to have suffered any of the evil consequences of his indiscretions, real or imagined. Another contribution from her consisted of the suggestion of mottoes appropriate to each writer noticed at length; and in this work she had an unknown collaborator in the person of Robert Browning. So ends the somewhat uneventful year of 1843.
[Footnote 90: Her contributions to the essays on Tennyson and Carlyle have recently been printed in Messrs. Nichols and Wise’s Literary Anecdotes of the Nineteenth Century, i. 33, ii. 105.]
The year 1844 marks an important epoch in the life of Mrs. Browning. It was in this year that, as a result of the publication of her two volumes of ‘Poems,’ she won her general and popular recognition as a poetess whose rank was with the foremost of living writers. It was six years since she had published a volume of verse; and in the meanwhile she had been gaining strength and literary experience. She had tried her wings in the pages of popular periodicals. She had profited by the criticisms on her earlier work, and by intercourse with men of letters; and though her defects in literary art were by no means purged away, yet the flights of her inspiration were stronger and more assured. The result is that, although the volumes of 1844 do not contain absolutely her best work—no one with the ’Sonnets from the Portuguese’ in his mind can affirm so much as that—they contain that which has been most generally popular, and which won her the position which for the rest of her life she held in popular estimation among the leaders of English poetry.
The principal poem in these two volumes is the ‘Drama of Exile.’ Of the genesis of this work, Miss Barrett gives the following account in a letter to Home, dated December 28 1843: