Elizabeth and Robert Browning
The love affair of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning is the stuff that legend is made of.
Many books have been written about them and several films have been made about their wonderfully romantic love affair. People never seem to tire of The Barretts of Wimpole Street no matter how many times it has been filmed.
Elizabeth Barrett was an invalid kept under strict surveillance by her father who threatened to disinherit her if she ever married.
But the couple married in secret and their many love letters have been preserved and digitized for us in a joint project by Wellesley College, Massachusetts and Baylor University in Texas.
When I researched these letters I must say I was fascinated and could hardly tear myself away. Most of the time I felt that I was peeping over their shoulders and that I really had no right to be reading something so private even though they were written so many years ago.
As we would expect from such a literary couple their letters are beautifully expressed and because of their great love for one another they remain eternally fresh.
I have here for you two small excerpts of their faded but beautiful letters.
I am also including a sampling of the contents of the letters just to give you an idea of how beautifully they are expressed. Their story will live on wherever there are lovers of true romance.
A Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Note the fine, light pressure partially due to her delicate health.
Robert Browning’s handwriting is much more robust:
Robert Browning’s Letter
Here is part of the very first letter that Robert Browning wrote to Elizabeth Barrett:
January 10, 1845
“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”
“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..”
“Well, these Poems were to be, and this true thankful joy and pride with which I feel myself,
Yours ever faithfully,
Elizabeth Replied to his letter the very next day:
January 11, 1845
“I thank you, dear Mr. Browning, from the bottom of my heart. You meant to give me pleasure by your letter—and even if the object had not been answered, I ought still to thank you. But it is thoroughly answered.
Such a letter from such a hand! Sympathy is dear—very dear to me: but the sympathy of a poet, and of such a poet, is the quintessence of sympathy to me! Will you take back my gratitude for it?—agreeing, too, that of all the commerce done in the world, from Tyre to Carthage, the exchange of sympathy for gratitude is the most princely thing!”
“I am writing too much,—and notwithstanding that I am writing too much, I will write of one thing more.
I will say that I am your debtor, not only for this cordial letter and for all the pleasure which came with it, but in other ways, and those the highest: and I will say that while I live to follow this divine art of poetry, in proportion to my love for it and my devotion to it, I must be a devout admirer and student of your works.
This is in my heart to say to you—and I say it.
And, for the rest, I am proud to remain
Your obliged and faithful
Elizabeth B. Barrett.”
More Famous love letters