The Love Story of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning

Posted February 14, 2013 by Amanda | 3 Comments

It’s Valentine’s Day! Valentine’s Day brings out the romantic in many of us and what better way to spend Valentine’s Day than to read about great love stories in history. Baylor University, in collaboration with Wellesly College digitized the love letters between English poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett. The entire collection is now available online for your viewing pleasure.

Elizabeth Barrett came from a prominent and wealthy family and she was already a well established poet before she met fellow poet Robert Browning. She lived as a semi-invalid in her father’s house, under his domineering hand, and had become a bit of recluse. Robert had been an admirer of Elizabeth’s work for some time, and with the help of a friend, John Kenyon, met Elizabeth in 1845. The two quickly fell in love and thus, began one of the most famous courtships in literature. Her father disapproved of Robert, who believed he was an unreliable fortune hunter, so the couple kept their relationship a secret. Together, they exchanged hundreds of love letters, and by 1846, the couple eloped. Her father disowned her and she faced disgust from her brothers, who believed she had married a low-class gold digger. However, Elizabeth stood by her husband, and shortly after their wedding, they fled to Italy.

She lived the remainder of her life in Italy, and the couple had a son in 1849. Later, she published her best-known work, Sonnets from the Portuguese, which consisted of a collection of sonnets chronicling the couple’s courtship and marriage.

Read Robert Browning’s first letter to Elizabeth Barrett below:

10 January 1845
New Cross, Hatcham, Surrey.

I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,-and this is no off-hand complimentary letter that I shall write,-whatever else, no prompt matter-of-course recognition of your genius and there a graceful and natural end of the thing: since the day last week when I first read your poems, I quite laugh to remember how I have been turning and turning again in my mind what I should be able to tell you of their effect upon me-for in the first flush of delight I thought I would this once get out of my habit of purely passive enjoyment, when I do really enjoy, and thoroughly justify my admiration-perhaps even, as a loyal fellow-craftsman should, try and find fault and do you some little good to be proud of hereafter!-but nothing comes of it all-so into me has it gone, and part of me has it become, this great living poetry of yours, not a flower of which but took root and grew .. oh, how different that is from lying to be dried and pressed flat and prized highly and put in a book with a proper account at top and bottom, and shut up and put away .. and the book called a “Flora,” besides! After all, I need not give up the thought of doing that, too, in time; because even now, talking with whoever is worthy, I can give a reason for my faith in one and another excellence, the fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought-but in this addressing myself to you, your own self, and for the first time, my feeling rises altogether. I do, as I say, love these Books with all my heart-and I love you too: do you know I was once not very far from seeing .. really seeing you? Mr Kenyon said to me one morning “would you like to see Miss Barrett?”-then he went to announce me,-then he returned .. you were too unwell-and now it is years ago-and I feel as at some untoward passage in my travels-as if I had been close, so close, to some world’s-wonder in chapel or crypt, .. only a screen to push and I might have entered-but there was some slight .. so it now seems .. slight and just-sufficient bar to admission, and the half-opened door shut, and I went home my thousands of miles, and the sight was never to be!  Well, these Poems were to be-and this true thankful joy and pride with which I feel myself.  

Yours ever faithfully,  
Robert Browning.

Have you found love letters in your family history research? Share your stories in the comments below!

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Amanda is the Marketing Communications Manager at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

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