Call me ‘Ba’

While doing research on the correspondence between Elizabeth Barrett Browning (EBB) and Sir Uvedale Price in the Browning Letters corpus published online by Baylor, I came across an interesting development in opening formulas. Sir Uvedale and EBB met when he was nearly eighty years old and she was in her twenties. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Sir Uvedale was impressed by EBB’s  ‘Essay on the mind, with other Poems’ (1826), and struck up a friendship with her.  In their letters they discussed a wide variety of subjects such as classical Greek pronunciation and poetry, and they even criticized each other’s work. EBB paid visits to Sir Uvedale’s hometown Foxley to talk about their shared interests. In one of her letters, EBB wrote that ‘Mr. Price’s friendship has given me more continual happiness than any other single circumstance ever did’. Their friendship was thus a close one. This relationship is reflected in their use of opening formulas, and it lead to the following interesting opening. On 17 November 1826, Sir Uvedale opened his letter to EBB as follows:

Sir Uvedale Price source: Wikipedia

Sir Uvedale Price
source: Wikipedia

As I have taken the liberty of calling you Ba, I shall not be more ceremonious in writing than in speaking; & therefore in this, & in all future letters, unless you forbid me, shall quit dear Miss Barrett, for dear Ba

EBB accepted this rather bold proposal in her next letter to him, replying to him in December:

EBB Source: Wikipedia

EBB
Source: Wikipedia

As you have permitted me to express opinions on more important subjects, you must let me assure you, dear Sir, that “Ba” is much better pleased to hear from you than “Miss Barrett” could be

 

In every letter after this, Sir Uvedale opened with “Dear Ba”. Their friendship unfortunately was strong but short-lived. Two years after meeting, Sir Uvedale died at the age of 82.  On his death in 1829, EBB wrote a poem to commemorate her friend: ‘To the Memory of Sir Uvedale Price, Bart’.

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