Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Advanced Search

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), English poet wrote Sonnets From The Portuguese (1850);

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
—number Forty-Three

Empathetic due to her own lifelong physical sufferings but evocative of profound intellectual thought, Browning’s poems are considered among the greatest contributions to English poetry for the nineteenth century. Through her pen, she was passionately outspoken on issues of social injustice like slavery, child labor, and oppression of women, and later in life expressed her political opinions of the struggle in Italy with Austria. She had a lasting influence on future American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) and English author Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) who praised her works, which are still widely read in the twenty-first century.

Elizabeth Barrett Moulton Barrett was born on 6 March 1806 at Coxhoe Hall, County Durham, England, the daughter of Mary Graham Clarke (d.1828) and Edward Moulton Barrett (d.1857), who amassed great wealth from his Jamaican sugar plantations. Three years after Elizabeth was born, he bought the 500 acre estate `Hope End’ in Hertfordshire.

Young Elizabeth benefited from a privileged life in the country with her eleven younger siblings. Although frail at times, she still enjoyed physical pursuits like riding her pony and attending social gatherings with family and friends. Similar to her future husband Robert Browning, she was a voracious reader and early on became a keen student under her tutors, studying languages including Greek, the Bible in Hebrew, and classical literature, philosophy, and history. While her father was overly protective and actually forbade her to marry, he did encourage her to write, and in 1820 had fifty copies of her narrative poem “The Battle of Marathon” printed. Her autocratic father’s concern increased when Elizabeth was stricken with illness around the age of fifteen. A course of opium was prescribed and for the rest of her life she would need it for various ailments.

In 1825 Browning’s second published poem “The Rose and Zephyr” appeared in the Literary Gazette. She was continuing her studies, kept a journal, and was working on other poems and translations, published anonymously as was common for a woman at the time, but they went mostly unnoticed. Browning supported the abolition of slavery but soon her father’s fortunes fell and he had to sell `Hope End’. The family moved to London and settled at 50 Wimpole Street in 1837. Around this time, at the age of thirty-one, Browning suffered a serious lung ailment and until she married mostly lived a life in seclusion as an invalid, her sickroom filled with books and pictures.

Browning had grown to be an attractive young woman with large eyes, dark curly hair, a diminutive figure with an easy smile, and charming to all who met her. Her ill health did not stop her from writing however and 1838 proved a successful year for her with The Seraphim and Other Poems including “Cowper’s Grave” and “The Cry of the Children”, the first of her works to be published under her own name. It gained critical acclaim and Browning started correspondences with many literary figures of the day including Thomas Carlyle, Edgar Allan Poe, and William Wordsworth.

Financially secure due to an inheritance from an uncle, in 1840 Browning traveled to the fashionable seaside resort of Torquay in southern England to take a rest cure to improve her health. While there her beloved brother `Bro’ who had accompanied her drowned in the Bay. Her grief and guilt is expressed in “De Profundis”;

III

The heart which, like a staff, was one
For mine to lean and rest upon,
The strongest on the longest day
With steadfast love, is caught away,
And yet my days go on, go on.

IV

And cold before my summer's done,
And deaf in Nature's general tune,
And fallen too low for special fear,
And here, with hope no longer here,
While the tears drop, my days go on.

Back in London, Browning’s Poems (1844) including “The Drama of Exile” and “The Vision of Poets” was published in England and America. It too was highly praised and came under the notice of poet Robert Browning, who, six years younger than she, wrote her a letter full of compliments on 10 January, 1845. Thus began their famous correspondence, and he soon visited her at Wimpole Street. A year later they secretly married at Marleybone Parish church in London, and settled at their `Casa Guidi’ in Florence, Italy, in 1846.

The Browning’s were a devoted, happy couple and Elizabeth’s physical strength and health improved greatly so that they could travel throughout Italy and Europe. Her pet Spaniel `Flush’ was a constant companion and her nurse and confidante Elizabeth Wilson tended to her every need, as did her husband. They encouraged each other in daily activities as well as their writing, seemingly mindful of each other’s struggles to compose, offering critique or opinions. They had many visitors to their luxurious home with its elegant terraces, including English novelist and art critic John Ruskin and Anthony Trollope.

Titled after her husband’s pet name for her, `the Portuguese’, Sonnets From The Portuguese (1850) is Browning’s collection of forty-four Petrarchan love sonnets, written during her courtship with Robert (1845 and 1846).

In 1849 Robert Wiedeman “Pen” Barrett Browning was born. A year later, when William Wordsworth died, Browning was a candidate for next Poet Laureate, but Lord Alfred Tennyson was chosen. Casa Guidi Windows (1851) contains reflections on Browning’s adopted second home and Italy’s struggle for independence. In 1857, the same year Browning’s father died, who had never forgiven her for marrying, “a novel in verse” the controversial Aurora Leigh (1857) was published, which celebrates in part female independence from domineering men;

If I married him,
I would not dare to call my soul my own,
Which so he had bought and paid for: every thought
And every heart-beat down there in the bill,–
Not one found honestly deductible
From any use that pleased him!

—Bk. II, l. 785-790

That he, in his developed manhood, stood
A little sunburnt by the glare of life;
While I . . it seemed no sun had shone on me.

—Bk. IV, l. 1139-1141

Browning had previously shown an interest in Italian politics but her Poems Before Congress (1860) was not well-received. In a letter dated 13 April, 1860 to friend and critic Mr. Chorley she writes “I never wrote to please any of you, not even to please my own husband.” She defends her work as from the heart, a duty to tell the truth for she further states “Every genuine artist in the world (whatever his degree) goes to heaven for speaking the truth.”

Just over a year later, on 29 June, 1861, Elizabeth Barrett Browning died in her husband’s arms. She is buried in an elaborate Cararra marble tomb designed by Lord Leighton in the English Cemetery in Piazzale Donatello, Florence, Italy. Her husband survived her by twenty-eight years.

Last Poems was published in 1862. Her son Robert “Pen” Browning compiled and had published The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846. In 1934, a movie called “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” was made starring Norma Shearer as Elizabeth, Charles Laughton as Edward Moulton Barrett, and Fredric March as Robert Browning.

Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2006. All Rights Reserved.


The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

Recent Forum Posts on Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Eliz. Barrette film

In the biography of Elizabeth Barrett an error has crept in. In the 1934 film "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" the role of Elizabeth's stern father, Edward, was not played by Charles Laughton as stated, but by Sir John Gielgud....


Barret Browning Quote

I recently found this impressive quote from Elizabeth Barret Browning. My question is: What are your thoughts on who the "Greek Christian poets" she mentions might be? We want the touch of Christ's hand upon our literature, as it touched other dead things; we want the sense of the saturation of Christ's blood upon the souls of our poets, that it may cry through them in answer to the ceaseless wail of the Sphinx of our humanity, expounding agony into renovation. Something of this has b...


Any Dramatic Monologues by Elizabeth Barrett Browning?

Say 'Dramatic Monologue' and you think Robert Browning. However, I was reading something recently that mentioned Dramatic Monlogues by his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I was intrigued and tried to find them on the internet. But of course with searching her name and 'Dramatic Monologue' together everything that came up was about Robert Browning. Don't get me wrong, I love RB's poetry but I want to know if EBB wrote any and what they are. All I have in my anthology of English Literatur...


Mrs. Browning's Poems

I have recently come into possesion of a book of poems named " Mrs. Browning's Poems" author is of coarse E.B.B. Publisher is Hurst & Co. It has 533 pages and is dedicated to her Father. Can anyone tell me when this was published and value for insurance purposes?...


Elizabeth Barrett Browing's own Library

Does anyone know if the books she owned (her personal library) is listed anywhere? I am trying to find if she read Trelawny's Adventures or his Reflections of Shelley and Byron....


Help with Insufficiency

I am having a bit of difficulty understanding this poem, by the titile of it, and particuarly the first few lines as well as the last, I thought it might have been about the difficulties of a poet to sometiems express what they feel of communivate upon page what is within thier minds, but what is curse that breaths through nature? I know that a lot of her poems that I have read seemed to be very relgious, so with the imagery of talking about a curse of nature, and the wind exposting deformed...


Pain In Pleasure

I loved this Pain In Pleasure A thought lay like a flower upon mine heart, And drew around it other thoughts like bees For multitude and thirst of sweetnesses; Whereat rejoicing, I desired the art Of the Greek whistler, who to wharf and mart Could lure those insect swarms from orange-trees That I might hive with me such thoughts and please My soul so, always. foolish counterpart Of a weak man's vain wishes! While I spoke, The thought I called a flower grew nettle-rough The thou...


The Soul's Expression

There was something about this one that I just really liked The Soul's Expression With stammering lips and insufficient sound I strive and struggle to deliver right That music of my nature, day and night With dream and thought and feeling interwound And only answering all the senses round With octaves of a mystic depth and height Which step out grandly to the infinite From the dark edges of the sensual ground. This song of soul I struggle to outbear Through portals of the sense,...


Change Upon Change

I just loved this poem for some reason. Change Upon Change . Five months ago the stream did flow, The lilies bloomed within the sedge, And we were lingering to and fro, Where none will track thee in this snow, Along the stream, beside the hedge. Ah, Sweet, be free to love and go! For if I do not hear thy foot, The frozen river is as mute, The flowers have dried down to the root: And why, since these be changed since May, Shouldst thou change less than they. And slow, slow as...


Robert Browning & Elizabeth Browning.....comparison?!

i obliged in my college to write an essay about the style of elizabeth browning & robert browning so all i need abrief information for example like ( metaphore, dramatic monologue , echoizm...etc) my title is ( Robert browning & elizabeth brownig two diffrent figures but they are in same age) thanx...


The Lady's Yes

This is a poem I have come across and it struck my interest, not only did I find it enjoyable to read, but I am curious as to the nature and meaning behind the poem, for I could read a couple of things into it. The Lady's Yes "Yes," I answered you last night; "No," this morning, Sir, I say. Colours seen by candlelight, Will not look the same by day. When the viols played their best, Lamps above, and laughs below-- Love me sounded like a jest, Fit for Yes or fit for No. ...


How do i love thee? Let me count the ways.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. by Elizabeth Barrett Browning How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. I love thee to the level of everyday's Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight. I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise. I love thee with the passion put to use In my old griefs, and with my...


Post a New Comment/Question on Browning

Quizzes on Elizabeth Barrett Browning

No quizzes available to take yet.

Please submit a quiz here.


Related links for Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Here is where you find links to related content on this site or other sites, possibly including full books or essays about Elizabeth Barrett Browning written by other authors featured on this site.




Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Email:
Sonnet-a-Day Newsletter
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.
Email: