BROWNING, Elizabeth Barrett

(1806 - 1861)
“Of writing many books there is no end;
And I who have written much in prose and verse
For others' uses, will write now for mine”

Afflicted with ill health, Elizabeth Barrett Browning spent much of her life as a semi-invalid living in seclusion in her parent’s house in London.  However she was able to devote herself to study and to writing – making her name with her first major collection of verse, Seraphim and Other Poems, published in 1838.  The reviews from both sides of the Atlantic were very positive and “hailed her as a young poet of extraordinary ability and still greater promise”.   The critical reception of Poems, published in two volumes in 1844, indicated that she was a significant poet with an international standing.  Poems was read by Robert Browning in January 1845, who then wrote a letter to Elizabeth which began, “I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett.” This was the first of around 600 letters exchanged between the two, constituting one of the most famous series of love letters ever written.  Despite her father’s prohibition, the two eloped in September 1846, settling in Italy where they hoped the warmer climate would help with Elizabeth’s health.  During the period of their courtship and exchange of letters, she was composing the poems to be published, in 1850, as Sonnets from the Portuguese. Among the finest love poems ever written, they are her most enduring poetic achievement, and include the seminal “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”  

Elizabeth Barrett Browning went on to publish further collections of poetry, which encompassed politics, feminism and anti-slavery but it is her series of love poems to her beloved husband which remain her lasting legacy.  She died in his arms on 29th June 1861.

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BROWNING, Elizabeth Barrett