Browning [née Moulton Barrett], Elizabeth Barrett
- Marjorie Stone
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)
Browning [née Moulton Barrett], Elizabeth Barrett (1806–1861), poet and writer, was born on 6 March 1806 at Coxhoe Hall, co. Durham, the first of the twelve children of Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett (1785–1857), plantation owner, and his wife, Mary, née Graham (1781–1828).
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's family origins are documented in Jeannette Marks's The Family of the Barrett, in R. A. Barrett's The Barretts of Jamaica, and in The Brownings' Correspondence. Her mother's parents were John and Arabella Graham (after 1786, Graham-Clarke) of Newcastle upon Tyne. John Graham-Clarke owned Jamaican sugar plantations, ships trading between Newcastle and Jamaica, a brewery, flax spinning mills, and glassworks. Her father's parents were Charles and Elizabeth Moulton (1763–1830), who had married in Jamaica on 28 August 1781. Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett's fortune came not from his father, who soon separated from his wife, but from his maternal grandfather, Edward Barrett (1734–1798), owner of Cinnamon Hill, Cornwall, Cambridge, and Oxford estates on Jamaica's north side: more than 10,000 acres in total (Barrett, 128). Edward Barrett's income was 'fifty thousand a year', his great-granddaughter told fellow poet Robert Browning (1812–1889), during the courtship recorded in their famous love letters (Correspondence, 13.24).
The desire to hand down the family's patronymic together with its wealth explains the doubled Barrett in the poet's maiden name. By 1798 all three of Edward Barrett's sons had predeceased him, making his two grandsons by Elizabeth Moulton, Edward and Samuel Barrett Moulton (1787–1837), his principal male heirs. A clause in the will of his son George Goodin Barrett (1761–1795) had made legacies for the Moulton sons conditional on their adding and bearing 'the Surname of Barrett' on turning twenty-one. In 1798 they successfully obtained a royal licence to do so. Their grandfather then added a clause to his own will stipulating that all heirs to his Jamaican estates 'use the surname of Barrett'. The poet's father customarily shortened his name to Edward Moulton Barrett, without hyphenation; his descendants adopted the hyphenated form after his death in 1857 (Barrett, 37, 44, x). The poet herself customarily retained the forename Barrett and dropped the surname Moulton, using Elizabeth Barrett Moulton Barrett only for legal documents like her marriage certificate. When she did not refer to herself as Ba, the pet name family members and close friends called her by throughout her life, she signed her letters and poems during her maiden years with varying forms of Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, often simply using 'EBB'. She used 'Elizabeth B. Barrett' for The Seraphim, and other Poems (1838), her third published collection and the first to bear her name. In the two-volume Poems (1844) that established her international fame and prompted Browning to write to her on 10 January 1845, she identified herself, more resoundingly, as 'Elizabeth Barrett Barrett'. As the courtship progressed, Browning happily noted that, in marrying him, she would remain 'EBB' (Correspondence, 11.248–9).
After their marriage on 12 September 1846, Elizabeth Barrett Browning maintained her characteristic use of her signature initials. A charming instance appears in a fair copy of the anti-slavery poem 'The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point', dating from autumn 1846. Here the signature 'EBB' in her hand is enclosed in brackets added in Browning's hand and preceded by his underlined word 'my' (Armstrong Browning Library, D802). Her signature practices have been ignored by biographers and critics, who usually identify her as 'Elizabeth Barrett', as 'Mrs Browning', or, since the 1970s feminist revival of interest in her works, as 'Barrett Browning'. Yet the poet rarely identified herself by the first two names, while the third is an anachronistic formation. Given her own practice and the continuity between her maiden and married identities conveyed by her initials, this article henceforth refers to her as EBB.
EBB's explanation of her complicated name to Browning in 1845 has provoked some speculation about her ancestry:
My true initials are EBMB—my long name, as opposed to my short one, being … Elizabeth Barrett Moulton Barrett!—… Christian name—Elizabeth Barrett:—surname, Moulton Barrett … to make it portable, I fell into the habit of doubling it up & packing it closely,—& of forgetting that I was a Moulton, altogether. … Yet our family-name is Moulton Barrett, & my brothers reproach me sometimes for sacrificing the governorship of an old town in Norfolk with a little honorable verdigris from the Heralds' Office—As if I cared for the Retrospective Review! Nevertheless it is true that I would give ten towns in Norfolk (if I had them) to own some purer lineage than that of the blood of the slave!—Cursed we are from generation to generation!—I seem to hear the ‘Commination service’.Correspondence, 11.252
Citing this passage, Julia Markus concluded in 1995 that the poet 'believed that she had African blood through her grandfather Charles Moulton' (Markus, 106).
Although Markus was not the first to contend that EBB had African blood, evidence does not support the speculation. There were racially mixed branches of the Barrett family: for example, the children of the poet's great-uncle George with Elissa Peters, a slave. He freed these children and directed in his will that they be educated in England and take up residence in countries where 'distinctions respecting colour' were 'not maintained'; the oldest of these, Thomas Peters, visited Coxhoe Hall in January 1808 (Barrett, 36, 58). However, genealogical research has uncovered no indication of African blood in EBB's lineage (Marks, 313; Barrett, 64). What the poet herself may have believed is another matter. Yet there is no mention of possible mixed ancestry in the hundreds of letters written by EBB and the Barrett family published in part or whole. Moreover, the poet's remarks imply that the 'curse' she speaks of does not stem, as Markus infers, from the Moulton side (in Norfolk where Moultons date back to the sixteenth century), but from the Barrett side.
Given her reference to the 'Commination service' for sinners, and her anti-slavery sentiments, it is more likely that EBB was alluding to the Barrett family's complicity in the 'curse' of profiting from the blood of slaves, as she shared her family history with Browning. His father also had Jamaican ancestors (on the maternal side), although Robert Browning sen. (1782–1866) had rejected the potential profits of the slavery system, remaining in England instead and living on a bank clerk's salary. In 1833, when the Emancipation Act abolishing slavery in British colonies was passed, EBB declared that she was 'glad' that 'the negroes' were 'virtually—free!' even though her father thought that the West Indies would be 'irreparably ruined' (Correspondence, 3.81, 86). During the courtship she also ironically discussed with Browning the 'infinite traditions' of her 'great great grandfather' Samuel Barrett (1689–1760) who had 'flogged his slaves like a divinity' (ibid., 13.24)—traditions passed on by ‘Treppy’ or Mary Trepsack, a planter's orphaned daughter who became the lifelong companion of the poet's beloved grandmother Moulton. Treppy believed in 'the beatitude of the slaves', but EBB presents a very different picture in 'The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point', portraying a slave woman who has been whipped, raped, and impregnated cursing her oppressors. As she said to John Ruskin in 1855, 'I belong to a family of West Indian slaveholders, and if I believed in curses, I should be afraid' (Letters, 2.220). The humane attitude that EBB's father and uncle adopted towards their slaves spared them from the worst effects of the Jamaican slave uprising of 1831–2 (Barrett, 84). Yet a kind of curse did seem to shape the Barrett family's history, manifested in thirty-eight years of chancery litigation among Edward Barrett's various descendants over slaves, cattle, and land beginning in 1801, aggravating the financial reverses experienced by his heirs as sugar prices dropped. Still, EBB's family was far from poverty-stricken; while Browning's father earned under £300 a year, her father's annual income was more than £4000 in 1807 (ibid., 47, 55).
Childhood and early education
In her early years EBB was relatively untroubled by her family's Jamaican roots. She passed her childhood and youth at Hope End, an idyllic estate in Herefordshire near Ledbury, where her father had a Turkish-style mansion built to accommodate his growing family. Elizabeth or ‘Ba’ was soon followed by Edward or ‘Bro’, the closest companion of her childhood, Henrietta, Mary (who died at age three), Samuel, Arabella, and six more sons: Charles, George, Henry, Alfred, Septimus, and Octavius. By virtue of her age, force of character, and precocity, Ba reigned over her siblings in the nursery. Educated in early childhood by her mother, who acted as ‘publisher’ for some of her compositions by transcribing collections of 'Poems by Elizabeth B. Barrett', she soon displayed the striking abilities that led her father, whom she affectionately called ‘Puppy’, to designate her as the 'Poet Laureate of Hope End'. The result of her irrepressible literary activity is one of the largest bodies of juvenilia produced by any English writer.
'At four I first mounted Pegasus but at six I thought myself priviledged [sic] to show off feats of horsemanship', EBB recalls in 'Glimpses into my own life and literary character', written principally when she was fourteen (Correspondence, 1.348–56). She breathlessly records how, at six, she began reading novels; at eight she was enraptured by Pope's translations of Homer; at ten she began to study Greek with Bro's tutor Daniel McSwiney; at eleven she began writing her own Homeric epic The Battle of Marathon; and on her fourteenth birthday in 1820 she exulted to see her epic privately printed in fifty copies (a gift from her father). She 'was familiar with Shakespeare Milton Homer and Virgil Locke Hooker Pope', reading Homer and Virgil 'in the original with delight inexpressible' (ibid., 1.352). By 1821 she had also read Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), responding with such enthusiasm that her mother teased her about founding hopes for female happiness 'on yours & Mrs. Wolstonecrafts system' (ibid., 1.132).
EBB's 'Glimpses' closes with contracting possibilities on the verge of her fifteenth year, as the girl who had aspired to mount Pegasus mourns the departure of Bro for Charterhouse and the formal education denied to his gifted sister. During this period her life was also transformed by an illness that struck all three Barrett daughters, but left lasting marks on only the eldest, who passed almost a year in a Gloucester spa. Her symptoms, as detailed by Dr William Coker [sic for Cother], included head and back pains, loss of mobility and appetite, debility, and regular 'paroxysms' accompanied by convulsive twitching of the diaphragm. Dr Cother offered the tentative diagnosis of spine disease, acknowledging 'positive proofs' were wanting (Correspondence, 1.325–7). Evidence indicates that EBB did have a serious illness; she did not bring her suffering on herself, as the story recorded in the Dictionary of National Biography suggests, by falling and injuring her spine while impatiently trying to saddle her pony Moses alone. The symptoms of her adolescent illness also differed substantially from the chronic lung disease that later afflicted her in 1837. The treatments she received—opiates, cupping, the use of setons (passing thread or tape on a needle through folds of skin), and suspension in a spine crib—may also have increased her debility (Forster, 24–5). She was to become dependent on opiates, a standard medical treatment, throughout much of her life. As Alethea Hayter notes, the effect of opium on 'an integrated personality with a brilliant imagination' may have contributed to the sensory vividness and metaphoric originality of her poetry (Hayter, 62).
In her mid-thirties EBB recalled the exuberant aspirations predating her adolescent illness in a wryly whimsical sketch of a girl named Beth (Correspondence, 1.360–62). Ten-year-old Beth is a 'warrior' and a 'poet', who plans to become Lord Byron's lover, wear men's clothes, 'live on a Greek island', and become the 'feminine of Homer. Many persons wd. be obliged to say that she was a little taller than Homer', in fact. But Beth 'had one great misfortune. She was born a woman.' Despising 'nearly all the women in the world' except Madame de Staël for their 'littlenesses called delicacies, their pretty headaches, & soft mincing voices', Beth 'thanked her gods that she was not & never wd. be feminine. Beth could run rapidly & leap high.' After her adolescent illness, EBB would never again 'leap high'. Undeterred by her physical weakness, however, she directed her spirit of conquest to learning and poetry instead.
Apprenticeship years: 1821–1840
EBB's long apprenticeship reflects the lack of opportunity she experienced as a woman in an isolated setting, with no access to higher education. She made her début in the world of letters with two poems on Greece in the New Monthly Magazine in 1821. Other poems followed, including 'Stanzas on the Death of Lord Byron' in 1824. From 1824 to 1826 she engaged in an intensive programme of self-education, recording analytical comments on works by Locke, Hume, Hobbes, Berkeley, Byron, Southey, Mary Shelley, Felicia Hemans, Maria Edgeworth, Letitia E. Landon (L.E.L.), and other writers. Some of this reading is reflected in the title-poem of An Essay on Mind, with other Poems (1826), combining her passion for Byron and Greek politics with an exploration of the human mind's powers. The poem never directly considers how gender influences genius and the prospects for fame. But clearly this is an underlying concern, as it is in 'The Development of Genius', a long Byronic poem that she worked on in 1826–7, only to have it condemned by her father as 'insufferable' in its hero's 'egotism', 'most wretched', and 'beyond [her] grasp' after he had read less than half of it (Correspondence, 1.359). The days were past when Puppy was uniformly delighted with the achievements of the Poet Laureate of Hope End. Autumn 1828 brought a more serious loss with the death of her mother, her first ‘publisher’, on 7 October—although, immersed in childbearing and dominated by her husband, the intelligent, artistic Mary Moulton Barrett could not provide a role model for her daughter. 'Scarcely I was a woman when I lost my mother', EBB later wrote to Browning—'[a] sweet, gentle nature, which the thunder a little turned from its sweetness', she added, alluding to the effect of her father on his wife (ibid., 13.305–6). Her mother's unmarried sister Arabella Sarah Graham-Clarke (1785–1869), called ‘Bummy’, helped to mother the Barrett children, but the strong-willed eldest Barrett child clashed with her aunt on more than one occasion.
EBB encountered a more sympathetic, learned response to 'The Development of Genius' from two classical scholars near Hope End—Uvedale Price and Hugh Stuart Boyd—led to correspond with her by An Essay on Mind. EBB's correspondence with Price on classical Greek pronunciation was cut short by his death in 1829, but her friendship and correspondence with Boyd lasted from 1827 until his death in 1848. Boyd was blind, but the two studied Greek together, Boyd drawing on his wide knowledge of classical poetry and EBB working as his amanuensis. Bored with country-house life and knowing no young men who interested her, she embraced this opportunity for intellectual partnership as zealously as Dorothea in George Eliot's Middlemarch embraces the pedantic Casaubon. And Boyd responded, presenting her with a splendid edition of Homer, inscribed in Greek, 'For the nearest and dearest', words which she inscribed in turn in a diary she kept from June 1831 to April 1832 (Diary, 57). The diary reflects her reading of Keats, Shelley, and other writers, as well as her complicated feelings for Boyd and the tensions these created with Mrs Boyd, whom EBB quietly scorned as '[e]mpty minded' (ibid., 48).
In the same period EBB emphatically expressed her family's whig sympathies to Boyd in letters about the first Reform Bill, describing Bro's speaking for the reform cause and exulting, when the bill was passed, that the English were 'a freer people' (Correspondence, 3.23, 25). Her keen interest in politics had been stimulated by her close relationship with her uncle Samuel, member of parliament for Richmond in Yorkshire from 10 March 1820 to February 1828, until he left England to oversee the family's Jamaican estates. On his death in December 1837 he left EBB a legacy of several thousand pounds plus shares in the ship David Lyon. Her uncle's legacy, combined with £4000 she received on her grandmother Moulton's death in 1830, gave EBB £8000 for investment (Barrett, 81, 100; Correspondence, 13.229).
The year 1832 was a time of dramatic change for the Barrett family as well as for the nation. Financial difficulties intensified by Edward Moulton Barrett's legal disputes forced the sale of Hope End. With characteristic secrecy about his affairs, he did not discuss the sale or plans for their new residence with his children, leaving EBB 'haunted' by the fear the family might move to Jamaica (Correspondence, 2.307). On 23 August the Barretts left for rented accommodation in Sidmouth, where they lived from August 1832 to December 1835. 1833 brought the Emancipation Act, compounding her father's financial reverses. In Sidmouth EBB maintained her friendship with Boyd, but outgrew her intellectual dependence with the publication of Prometheus Bound, Translated from the Greek of Aeschylus, and Miscellaneous Poems (1833). She later condemned her translation as a 'Prometheus twice bound' (ibid., 5.26); to make amends, she undertook a second translation in 1845, published in her 1850 Poems. Yet the production of an accurate translation of Aeschylus by a young woman with no university training remains an extraordinary feat. 'Aeschylus presents difficulties to the manliest Greek scholar', a reviewer observed; 'think of these rugged obstacles to a woman's mind!' (ibid., 4.390).
EBB's distinctive voice begins to emerge in the ballads she published in periodicals and annuals during the 1830s, including 'The Poet's Vow' and 'The Romaunt of the Page'. She was encouraged in the writing of these by the older, successful woman writer Mary Russell Mitford, whom she met in May 1836, after her family moved to 74 Gloucester Place, London. Mitford, who came to act as a literary mother to EBB and became her most regular correspondent, was introduced to her by John Kenyon (1784–1856), a wealthy distant cousin of her father's who shared her literary interests and the Barretts' Jamaican connections. The day after her meeting with Mitford, EBB met William Wordsworth and Walter Savage Landor at Kenyon's house. It was a propitious time for her. The move to London, which became permanent when the Barretts settled into 50 Wimpole Street in April 1838, promised to open up a stimulating world. In June The Seraphim, and other Poems appeared, including her ballads and numerous other works. Like the title-poem, portraying the crucifixion from the perspective of the angels, many of these reflect EBB's Congregationalist religious faith, derived from a dissenting background but modified by her increasingly unorthodox mistrust of established religions (Lewis, 11). 'The Seraphim' was criticized as an ambitious failure, but the collection led Wordsworth to praise the author's 'Genius and attainments' (Correspondence, 4.347).
Between 1822 and 1837 improvements in EBB's health had permitted her to lead a relatively normal life. In 1837–8 she was stricken with a second prolonged illness which continued over four years, in which she suffered from 'blood spitting, irregular heart action, loss of voice', elevated body temperature, fainting, and insomnia, symptoms associated today with either bronchiectasis or 'tuberculous ulceration of the lungs' (Hayter, 59). On 25 August 1838 she left the polluted air of mid-Victorian London for Torquay; she was not to return to Wimpole Street until 11 September 1841. During this period two tragedies struck in quick succession. On 17 February 1840 her brother Samuel died of fever in Jamaica; on 11 July Bro, the brother dearest to her, drowned in a sailing accident in Babbacombe Bay. Bro's death was a near-mortal blow, intensified by the guilt she experienced because her father had agreed, against his wishes, to allow Bro to stay with her in Torquay. 'That was a very near escape from madness, absolute hopeless madness', she later told Mitford (Correspondence, 5.82). Out of this tribulation, however, came some of her finest poems, including 'De profundis' and the sonnet 'Grief'.
The middle years, 1840–1850: fame, courtship, marriage, and Italy
In both academic and popular versions of EBB's life story, Browning is credited with miraculously curing ‘Miss Barrett’ and awakening her poetic creativity when he rescued her from her dragon of a father, the legendary Mr Barrett of Wimpole Street. In fact, however, EBB experienced a return to moderately better health, as well as a flowering of her poetic powers, at least two years before first meeting Browning in May 1845, although she remained confined to her Wimpole Street room after returning to London in 1841. Her growing vitality is evident in her correspondence of the early 1840s with writers and artists on both sides of the Atlantic. She corresponded with the painter Benjamin Robert Haydon concerning Keats, Napoleon, and the nature of genius, supplying him with a vivid verbal portrait of herself, but refusing to meet him in person:
I am ‘little & black’ like Sappho, en attendant the immortality … five feet one high, … eyes of various colours as the sun shines … [n]ot much nose … but to make up for it, a mouth suitable to a larger personality—oh, and a very little voice.Correspondence, 8.128
She also corresponded at length with the poet, critic, and dramatist Richard Hengist Horne, collaborating with him on a lyrical drama, 'Psyche apocalypté', that never advanced beyond various manuscript fragments; contributing to The Poems of Chaucer, Modernized (1841); and collaborating with him on A New Spirit of the Age (1844). In fact, she wrote entire sections of the essays on Carlyle and Tennyson for this critical collection, although she chose not to make her role public (ibid., 8.353–67). Her richest literary correspondence during this period, however, is with Mitford, who sent letters and gifts of flowers to revive EBB's interest in life after Bro's death and gave her additional reason to live with the gift of the spaniel Flush in January 1841. Their letters teem with discussions of English, American, and European authors, particularly women writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen, and writers of the day such as Tennyson and George Sand (Letters … to Mary Russell Mitford).
Between 1841 and 1844 EBB also prolifically produced new poetical works, translations, and two substantial critical essays for 1842 issues of The Athenaeum: 'Some account of the Greek Christian poets' and 'The book of the poets', a comprehensive 'Survey of the English poets' under the pretence of a review (Correspondence, 5.349). Her physicians had warned her that writing might endanger her health, but she literally wrote herself back to life. In 1839, at work on her 'wild and wicked ballad' about a cursing nun, 'The Lay of the Brown Rosary', despite a medical prohibition against writing, she described herself discovered with 'a pen guilty of ink' by her side and Dr Barry exclaiming 'In the very act, Miss Barrett!' (ibid., 4.169, 174). Following her brush with death in 1840–41, the guilty pen was again in action producing, among much else, sonnets to George Sand; 'A Vision of Poets', an allegorical representation of the quest for poetic immortality; 'The Lost Bower', a Wordsworthian depiction of nature's regenerative power; and 'A Drama of Exile', in which she takes up Milton's story where it ends in Paradise Lost, boldly justifying her focus on Eve's story after the fall because it is 'more expressible by a woman than a man' (Complete Works, 2.144). Inspired as well by Horne's work in 1841–2 with the royal commission for the investigation of the employment of children in mines and factories, she wrote 'The Cry of the Children'. First published in Blackwood's in 1843, it was credited with rousing support for Lord Shaftesbury's Ten Hours Bill (1844). The result of this prolific creativity was Poems (1844), establishing her as Tennyson's rival and a candidate for poet laureate in 1850. In America, where this collection appeared as A Drama of Exile: and other Poems, the reception was particularly favourable, leading Edgar Allan Poe to dedicate The Raven and other Poems (1845) to her as the 'noblest of her sex'. EBB observed to her cousin Kenyon 'What is to be said, I wonder, when a man calls you the [“]noblest of your sex” … “Sir, you are the most discerning of yours”!' (Correspondence, 12.165).
The new ballads in the Poems of 1844 became EBB's most popular works. 'Rhyme of the Duchess May', with its star-crossed lovers plunging to their deaths on a stallion from a tower, had such a sensational effect that one lady reportedly fell 'into hysterics' (Correspondence, 10.140). 'Lady Geraldine's Courtship', subtitled 'a romance of the age', was the most celebrated, with its story of a love match between an earl's daughter and a peasant poet. It was EBB's answer to Tennyson's 'Locksley Hall', although it is best known today for its salute to Robert Browning for poems likened to pomegranates, with 'a heart within blood-tinctured, of a veined humanity' (suggested by Browning's Bells and Pomegranates series, in which ‘dramatic lyrics’ such as 'My Last Duchess' had appeared). EBB had long admired Browning as an 'indubitable genius' and one of the 'demigods': a 'master in clenched passion … burning through the metallic fissures of language' (ibid., 7.14, 55, 6.325). She had particularly praised Paracelsus, Pippa Passes, and Browning's dramatic 'impersonations'. She also sympathized with the charges of obscurity levelled against his poetry, given similar criticisms of her own. Browning for his part had long admired her works. In 1842, after reading the 'Greek Christian poets', he expressed his interest to Kenyon (a mutual friend) of being introduced at her 'sofa-side' (ibid., 5.290); in 1843, seeing 'The Dead Pan' in manuscript, he called it '[m]ost noble!' (ibid., 7.137).
The sensuous compliment to Browning for poems revealing a 'heart' like 'blood-tinctured' pomegranates led to his first letter of 10 January 1845, beginning 'I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett' and proceeding to his praise of their 'fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought' (Correspondence, 10.17). Her reply, 'I thank you, dear Mr. Browning, from the bottom of my heart', echoed, as his letter had done, the imagery of the heart she had used to salute him in print, initiating a pattern of returning quotation for quotation pervading their correspondence. Their shared artistic aspirations, dissenting backgrounds, family situations (both were still living at home, he at thirty-two, she at thirty-eight), passion for Greek literature, and circles of literary friends led to an immediate intellectual intimacy, then to a deepening spiritual and emotional bond. EBB boldly indicated her desire to write a 'novel-poem' as 'completely modern' as 'Lady Geraldine's Courtship', 'meeting face to face & without mask the Humanity of the age', obliquely spoke of how '[a]nguish' had 'instructed' her 'in joy', and confessed her fear that her seclusion and intense 'inner life' were a 'disadvantage' to her art, making her like a 'blind poet'. Browning, frustrated by the critical misunderstandings of his writings, described his sense that his works were the imperfect 'escapes' of an 'inner power' leaping out like the 'light' in 'crazy Mediterrean phares' he had watched at sea (ibid., 10.102–3, 112, 133, 70). As spring approached, he hinted more directly his wish to meet EBB in person, spoke of his desire to write something 'in concert' with her, and promised one day to describe to her a 'country' seen in his 'soul only, fruits, flowers, birds and all' (ibid., 10.201, 166). She demurred about a meeting; after telling him that she was 'essentially better' and had been 'for several winters', she postponed the idea of his calling on her, then finally agreed, writing to warn him that her poetry was 'the flower' of her: 'the rest of me is nothing but a root, fit for the ground & the dark' (ibid., 10.111, 216).
They finally met in person on 20 May 1845 in EBB's room. The event was rapidly followed by Browning's impulsive declaration of love (in a letter that he subsequently reclaimed from her and destroyed), precipitating her withdrawal in alarm, given her invalidism, age, and feelings of inadequacy. Then began the rocky restoration of a relationship restricted to friendship. The conflicts Browning's love aroused in EBB are eloquently expressed in the Sonnets from the Portuguese, but a more unguarded response appears in two unpublished fragments in a 'Poems and Sonnets' note book at Yale, 'We are not equal …' and 'I dared to love …' (leaf 23v). After this turbulent beginning, the two poets settled into a growing intimacy, and Robert began to record the date and duration of each meeting. In total, he called on EBB ninety-one times between 20 May 1845 and their marriage in September 1846 (Correspondence, 10.226). Initially, they refracted their growing love through literature, as Browning requested EBB's help in revising the Dramatic Romances and Lyrics published in November 1845; she provided pages of detailed commentary (ibid., 11.375–401). August and September brought a turning point, however, as EBB received medical advice urging her to travel to Italy to avoid another London winter, but found her father firmly opposed to the idea. Unsuccessful appeals to him left her distraught and embittered. Browning, after a summer of holding his love in check, condemned the 'veriest slavery' her father subjected her to and declared on 25 September 'I would marry you now', saying that he would be 'no more than' a brother to her if her health necessitated it. His visit the next day led her to affirm in return 'I am yours for everything but to do you harm', promising that she would be to him what he chose if God freed her from her 'trailing chain' of ill health (ibid., 11.98, 100).
Once EBB had chosen '“Not Death, but Love”', as she later wrote in the Sonnets from the Portuguese, she did everything in her power to live. Although Italy was not an immediate possibility, winter 1845–6 was unusually mild. One warm day, 17 January 1846, she astonished her brothers and sisters when she 'put on a cloak & walked down stairs into the drawing room' (Correspondence, 12.4). By that point her sisters, Henrietta and Arabella, knew of her relationship with Browning, although they maintained strict secrecy about it, convinced that their father would be opposed to any of them marrying. Henrietta, in particular, sympathized, given her long courtship with her cousin William Surtees Cook. As 1846 progressed, the two poets moved towards more definite plans of marriage, discussing finances, including the costs of EBB's opiate prescription. Fortunately, her £8000 invested in the funds and shares in the ship David Lyon gave them the financial means to consider a marriage in which both might remain dedicated to their art even if she were disinherited by her father (as she was). The story of this courtship and their private marriage at St Marylebone parish church on 12 September 1846, followed by their flight to Italy with EBB's maid, Wilson, and Flush, has often been told. Markus emphasizes the tyranny of Mr Barrett and EBB's recollection of Henrietta's knees 'ring[ing] upon the floor' before him for the very suspicion of a romantic relationship (Markus, 33–5). Margaret Forster offers more sympathetic insight into Edward Moulton Barrett, while Dorothy Mermin and Daniel Karlin analyse the subtle intellectual and emotional exchange between two deeply intelligent, forceful personalities.
The romantic flight to Italy and EBB's subsequent 'vivid' life on the continent are most fully described in her intimate letters to Arabella (Letters … Arabella, 1.434). During their honeymoon stop in Paris, where EBB described herself as 'living as in a dream', in a 'new life' that seemed like 'riding an enchanted horse', the Brownings encountered their mutual friend, author and art critic Anna Jameson, with 'eyes open as wide as Flush' exclaiming, '“Can it be possible? … You dear abominable poets! Why what a ménage you will make!”' (ibid., 1.2–3). They subsequently stopped at Avignon to visit Vaucluse, made immortal by the love of Petrarch and Laura, where Ba startled her husband by making her way 'over the boiling water to a still rock in the middle of it'—a scene A. S. Byatt draws on in her 1990 novel Possession (ibid., 1.16). The only jarring element came in the news from home. EBB had expected her father's outrage. She did not expect the indignation of her brothers, and their long refusal to have any contact with Browning, whom they saw as a lower-class upstart eager to exploit their sister's income. This family opinion was still evident in 1930, when EBB's nephew Edward Alfred Moulton-Barrett exclaimed that his Aunt Ba had married a man whose grandfather 'kept a public house on Hampstead Heath' (Marks, 6).
In Italy the Brownings lived from 18 October 1846 until 20 April 1847 in Pisa, where on 21 March EBB experienced a miscarriage in the fifth month, after denying the possibility that she could be pregnant (Letters … Arabella, 1.67). A second miscarriage followed in spring 1848, a third in autumn 1849, and a fourth on 28 July 1850, with serious haemorrhaging (ibid., 1.163, 297, 331, 337). Between her second and third miscarriages, however, on 9 March 1849, EBB gave birth to a healthy son, Robert Wiedeman Barrett Browning, or Penini (shortened to Pen). 'E un miraculo quello bambino e venuto da quel corpo', the Italian nurse declared ('it's a miracle that baby came from that body'; Markus, 130). Sadly, the happy event was rapidly followed by Browning's mother's death on 18 March.
Pen was born in the Casa Guidi apartments that the Brownings furnished and settled into during May 1848, after moving to Florence in April 1847 and living in various temporary quarters. Thereafter, although they made extended journeys to France and England in 1851–2 and 1855–6, Casa Guidi became their principal home. During the hot summer months they retreated to Bagni di Lucca in Tuscany, or to Siena. 1858 brought a change in this pattern as EBB's health declined. From July to September 1858 they stayed in Paris and Le Havre. In 1853–4 and from 1858 to 1861 they passed the winters in Rome.
1846–8 was not a period of great poetic activity for EBB; she was too immersed in the poetry of life. Soon, however, the passion of the struggle for Italian liberation, together with Pen's birth, generated a new kind of poetry. Late in 1847 she began work on Casa Guidi Windows (1851), a lyrical epic about the birth of a nation interwoven with personal reflections on motherhood. But she worked on this intermittently. In summer 1849 she finally revealed to Robert the sonnets she had written during their courtship, including them at his insistence in the expanded two-volume Poems of 1850 (a third edition appeared in 1853, and a fourth in 1856). The title Sonnets from the Portuguese, meant to serve as a mask for the personal content, was suggested by the association of 'Catarina to Camoens', one of Browning's favourite poems, with the Portuguese poet Luis de Camões (Letters … Arabella, 1.368). Poignantly, EBB's 1850 Poems retained the dedication to her father from her 1844 edition. But the gesture and her many letters to him had no discernible effect. He refused to communicate with her up until his death in 1857, and died '[w]ithout a word, without a sign—It's like slamming a door on me as he went out', EBB said to Arabella (ibid., 2.298).
Married life, mature works, and final illness: 1851–1861
After her marriage EBB developed friendships with many writers, artists, intellectuals, and activists. In 1849 she met Margaret Fuller and was saddened by her death by shipwreck in 1850. On 15 February 1852 she also met George Sand, whose genius she had long admired; she disapproved of her bohemian companions, yet noted with approval that Sand seemed respected as 'the man in that company' (Letters, 2.56). The Brownings' journey back to England in 1851 led to social exchanges with Tennyson in Paris, and John Forster, Samuel Rogers, and the Carlyles in London. Later, EBB also met Charles Kingsley and became friends with John Ruskin. In Italy, the Brownings' circle of friends and acquaintances included Fanny and Adelaide Kemble; the American artists William Page and his wife, and William Wetmore Story and his wife; William Makepeace Thackeray and his daughters (Anne Thackeray Ritchie later wrote the 1886 Dictionary of National Biography entry on EBB); Frederick Tennyson, brother of the poet laureate; Robert Lytton, son of Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton; Walter Savage Landor, befriended by the Brownings in his stormy old age; Isa Blagden, one of their closest friends; the sculptor Harriet Hosmer, who lived the life of a 'perfectly “emancipated female”' (ibid., 2.166); and, in 1857 and 1860, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who shared EBB's keen interest in spiritualism.
Conflicting views of the table-moving and spirit-rapping sessions generated by the public fascination with spiritualism in 1852–3, combined with earlier conflicts over Louis Napoleon's coup d'état in France during their Paris winter of 1851–2, led to the first serious differences in the Brownings' otherwise happy marriage. The years from 1851 to 1855 were generally very productive for both poets, however. By 1853 EBB had commenced serious work on Aurora Leigh (published in November 1856, but dated 1857), developing the idea for the novel-poem she had first mentioned in 1844. Meanwhile, Browning was writing the dramatic monologues published in Men and Women (1855). From July to October 1855 they were in England, as Browning attended to the proofs of his new book. In London they saw many other writers, including Ruskin, Carlyle, and Adelaide Proctor. One memorable evening during this stay the Brownings were visited by Tennyson, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and his brother William Michael Rossetti.
D. G. Rossetti did a sketch of the poet laureate as he read 'Maud' 'to E. B. B.' and the others (Letters … Arabella, 2.175–6). Casa Guidi Windows, with its focus on Italian politics and its searing critique of the English imperialism embodied in the 1851 Great Exhibition, had not added greatly to EBB's reputation in England. By contrast, Aurora Leigh, which she described in its dedication (to John Kenyon) as the 'most mature' of her works, expressing her 'highest convictions upon Life and Art', was an immediate success. As Margaret Reynolds's scholarly edition of Aurora Leigh (1992) reveals, EBB's aim was not only to portray a representative woman artist, but also to take her subject matter 'from the times, “hot and hot”' (Reynolds, 85), confronting the 'social question' of the gulf between the classes, as well as the 'woman question' much debated in mid-Victorian periodicals. Addressing the issues of women's rights to education and work, battered wives, and systemic prostitution, Aurora Leigh simultaneously represents the threat of class conflict and the reforms it precipitated. It is also much concerned with questions about art, as the heroine, Aurora, and her high-born cousin Romney, a socialist reformer, debate the relative worth of artistic creation and pragmatic political action. Aurora gives no quarter in this debate, defiantly rejecting both Romney's patronizing dismissal of female artistic aspiration and his attempt to conscript her as helpmate (and wife) in his socialist mission. Years later she finally marries Romney, but she is now a successful author. He is blind (like Rochester in Jane Eyre), and has learned to appreciate her mission in life as well as his own.
Some reviewers were shocked by 'brazen-faced Aurora', and by the elliptical depiction of the rape and ensuing pregnancy experienced by Aurora's working-class friend, Marian, saying the 'book should be a closed volume' to the author's own sex. Others called Aurora Leigh the work of a 'master mind', a 'modern epic', saying, 'It sings of our actual life, embodying the schemes and struggles, the opinions and social contrasts of our day' (Stone, 141–5). Dorothy Mermin's balanced summary (Mermin, 223–4) indicates that critical responses were as diverse as the conflicting agendas of its readers. Aurora Leigh had no shortage of admirers, however. Terming it 'a unique work of audaciously feminine' genius, Swinburne said in 1898 'The advent of Aurora Leigh can never be forgotten by any lover of poetry who was old enough at the time to read it.' Ruskin called it 'the greatest poem' of the century; George Eliot read it three times because no other book gave her 'a deeper sense of communion with a large as well as a beautiful mind'; Elizabeth Gaskell turned to it for the epigraph of The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857); and Susan B. Anthony carried it with her as she criss-crossed America, lecturing on women's rights, inscribing her copy with the wish that women might be 'more & more like Aurora Leigh' (Stone, 32; Kelley and Coley, 573).
The success of Aurora Leigh was attended by three personal sorrows for EBB: the death of her benevolent cousin John Kenyon on 3 December 1856 and the death of her father on 17 April 1857, following rapidly on Treppy's death on 9 March 1857. In his will Kenyon left £4500 for EBB and £6500 for Browning (Correspondence, 3.317). Her father excluded EBB entirely from his will, along with Henrietta and Alfred (like EBB, both had married against his wishes), giving his Jamaican properties to his eldest living son and dividing his English estate, worth more than £63,000, among his remaining children (ibid., 1.288). After 1857 EBB's health grew frailer and she wrote relatively little for a period. Her father's death was followed by Henrietta's on 23 November 1860. In these years she was drawn to the consolations Swedenborgianism and spiritualism seemed to offer, forming a particularly close relationship with the wealthy American amateur medium Sophia Eckley, until she recognized Sophia's deceptions.
In 1859 EBB was intensely absorbed in Italian politics again, as Louis Napoleon, now self-crowned as Emperor Napoleon III, intervened in Italy and the liberation longed for by so many seemed imminent—until the treaty of Villafranca. These events are the subject of Poems before Congress (1860)—in America, entitled Napoleon III in Italy—a collection that provoked an outcry in England because reviewers assumed the thundering concluding poem, 'A Curse for a Nation', was the poet's curse on her own country (in fact, it was an anti-slavery poem first published in the 1856 issue of the abolitionist annual The Liberty Bell, as a curse on America). A storm of abuse descended on EBB from conservative quarterlies like Blackwood's and the Saturday Review. Denounced as a fanatic, she was told that woman's function was to bless, not to curse. Among Italians, however, Poems before Congress was more favourably received.
At the beginning of June 1861 the Brownings returned from a winter in Rome, where EBB had been seriously ill, to her final spring in Florence. Her condition did not improve, despite her husband's tender care and the use of morphine to relieve her pain. On 29 June, as dawn approached, she died in her husband's arms, after what Browning described to her brother George as 'the most perfect expression of her love to me within my whole knowledge of her'; she died 'smilingly, happily, and with a face like a girl's. … Her last word was—… “Beautiful”' (Mermin, 247). On 1 July she was buried in the protestant cemetery in Florence. A memorial tablet erected by 'Grateful Florence' at Casa Guidi paid tribute to the poet and the scholar 'whose poems forged a golden ring / Between Italy and England'.
Changing critical assessments
EBB's Last Poems (1862), edited by her husband, included works on Italian politics, accomplished dramatic monologues, and the powerful lyric 'A Musical Instrument'—exploring the beauty cruelly extracted by the gods of poetry from the artist's pain. The reviews of Last Poems, together with the obituaries, reflect the conflicting critical assessments typical of the next few decades. On the one hand EBB was called 'one of the foremost poets' of the age (British Quarterly Review, 34, October 1861), or one of the 'chief poets of the century', more welcomed in America 'than any English poet since the time of Byron' (Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 23, September 1861). At the very least, she was ranked as the 'greatest woman poet of whom we have any record' (North British Review, 36, May 1862), showing that 'Genius has no sex' (The Athenaeum, 6 July 1861). On the other hand she was criticized for eccentricity, obscurity, and faulty rhymes by reviewers who deplored her meddling with political questions viewed as beyond women's scope. The Edinburgh Review of October 1861 concluded that her career was 'some proof of the impossibility that women can ever attain to the first rank in any imaginative composition'. The Saturday Review more bluntly observed, 'no woman can hope to achieve what Mrs. Browning failed to accomplish' (Saturday Review, 12, 13 July 1861). Aurora Leigh is recognized as her major work in the obituaries, but preference is expressed for more conventionally feminine works, including the Sonnets from the Portuguese. Focus on the Sonnets permitted reviewers to assert that, if Mrs Browning 'exceeded her sex in strength and aspiration, it was only to foreshow what a woman may gain in her proper sphere' (North American Review, 94, April 1862).
A better index of EBB's historical significance appears in her widespread influence on other writers, intellectuals, and activists for women's rights in Britain, America, and Europe. In his youth Dante Gabriel Rossetti knew many of her poems of 1844 by heart, while Christina Rossetti's works reflect her complex response to the writer she acknowledged as her greatest female precursor. In America A Drama of Exile: and other Poems circulated in circles that included Margaret Fuller, James Russell Lowell, and the Hawthornes, as well as Poe. EBB's anti-slavery poems led Frederick Douglass, the great American orator and abolitionist, to pause by her grave in Florence in tribute during his travels in Italy. Certain works, such as the Sonnets from the Portuguese, were later translated into French, German, and Italian; in the case of 'The Cry of the Children' the interest extended to Russia.
EBB had a particularly powerful effect on women writers and reformers. Barbara Leigh-Smith (later Bodichon) wove quotations from Aurora Leigh into her pamphlet Women and Work (1857); Bessie Rayner Parkes, who helped establish the English Woman's Journal in 1858, paid tribute to her in 'To Elizabeth Barrett Browning'; Dora Greenwell mourned her death in 'To Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in 1861'; and Frances Power Cobbe used her achievement as an example of women's powers in art in 'What shall we do with our old maids?' (1862). George Eliot's Armgart (1874) clearly owes a debt to Aurora Leigh, like Katherine Bradley's Arran Leigh (1875), published before she began to collaborate with Edith Cooper as Michael Field; Louisa Sara Bevington also published her first volume of poems in 1876 under the pseudonym Arbor Leigh. By 1900 over twenty editions of Aurora Leigh had appeared, and in America a new edition 'could sell ten thousand copies' (Reynolds, 149). 'There may be greater poems in our language than 'Aurora Leigh', but it was many years before it was possible for me to suppose it', the American author Elizabeth Stuart Phelps observed, recalling that she 'could have repeated a large portion of it' from memory after she read it at sixteen in 1860 (Stone, 191). Emily Dickinson also wrote three poems to EBB, among them 'I think I was enchanted', and listed her among the authors she most treasured.
While many late Victorian critics continued to approach EBB as one of the century's major poets, those hostile to the implications of her achievement increasingly carried the day—like Edward Fitzgerald, who expressed 'relief' over her death: 'no more Aurora Leighs, thank God! A Woman of real Genius, I know; but what is the upshot of it all? She and her Sex had better mind the Kitchen and their Children; and perhaps the Poor' (Mermin, 248). The comment infuriated Browning when it was published in 1889, shortly before his own death. By the early twentieth century, hostility to the author of Aurora Leigh had subsided, but at the cost of reducing EBB to an appendage of her husband. Literary histories began to relegate consideration of 'Mrs. Browning' to supplementary sections of chapters on Browning, focusing on the story of her courtship and singling out Sonnets from the Portuguese as her best work. The Sonnets appeared in edition after edition from 1900 to 1970, while Aurora Leigh lapsed into virtual oblivion, and its author, whose reputation had eclipsed Browning's in her lifetime, was cast as the handmaid of her husband's genius. In 1908 John W. Cunliffe argued that she was more important for her influence on Browning than for her own poetry. 'Her best work is to be found not in her own writings, but in his.' By 1931 her reputation had sunk so low that Virginia Woolf sardonically described her as relegated to the 'servants' quarters' in the 'mansion of literature' (Stone, 209–12). In the same period, numerous popularized accounts of her life—most notably Rudolph Besier's 1930 play, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, made into Hollywood motion pictures in 1934 and 1959—established her as the pining Miss Barrett rescued by the dashing Robert Browning (Taplin, 419–20). Woolf and G. K. Chesterton both offered serious critical assessments of EBB's poetry at this time, but theirs were voices crying in the wilderness, like Alethea Hayter's thirty years later (1962). Gardner Taplin's 1957 scholarly biography did little to question the prevailingly dismissive attitudes towards her artistic achievement.
The women's movement of the 1970s, together with changing critical perspectives, generated a dramatic recovery of EBB's reputation, manifested in Cora Kaplan's 'Introduction' to the 1978 Women's Press edition of Aurora Leigh. In the 1980s new readings of the poetry of 'Barrett Browning' multiplied in books by Angela Leighton (1986), Helen Cooper (1988), Dorothy Mermin (1989), and Glennis Stephenson (1989), and in hundreds of entries listed in Sandra Donaldson's annotated bibliography (1993). Aurora Leigh has been the principal focus of these reinterpretations, but attention has also been directed to EBB's ballads and her 1844 Poems (Stone) and to her religious poetry (Lewis). Reassessment has been hampered by the lack of a scholarly complete edition of her writings, including criticism published under Richard Hengist Horne's name and poems such as 'Aeschylus' Soliloquy', mistakenly attributed to Browning for decades and occasioning repeated exchanges in the pages of the Times Literary Supplement. The lively letters that make her correspondence such a window on her age are comprehensively appearing, however, in the Correspondence edited by Philip Kelley, Ronald Hudson, and Scott Lewis.
While EBB has earned unanimous praise for her letters, the poetry that was her primary achievement has provoked more controversy. This controversy was as vigorous in the late twentieth century as it was in the 1850s and 1860s, and intertwined as it was then with debates concerning the nature of women, political issues, and aesthetic preferences. Few can deny, however, that Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most influential poets of her time. Aptly termed the 'wellhead of a new female tradition' (Mermin, 3), she was also an author whose daring experiments with poetic conventions and subject matter extended the possibilities for all writers who succeeded her, male as well as female. Popular stereotypes still cast her as the passive heroine of Wimpole Street. But her husband and fellow poet knew better. In The Ring and the Book, a novel in verse that owes much to the precedent of Aurora Leigh, Browning links his work to the golden ring of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's achievement, paying high tribute to her as '[b]oldest of hearts that ever braved the sun'.
- The Brownings' correspondence, ed. P. Kelley, R. Hudson, and S. Lewis, [14 vols.] (1984–)
- The letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to her sister Arabella, ed. S. Lewis, 2 vols. (2002)
- The letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ed. F. G. Kenyon, 2 vols. (1897)
- The letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Mary Russell Mitford, ed. M. B. Raymond and M. R. Sullivan, 3 vols. (1983)
- Diary by E.B.B.: the unpublished diary of Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, 1831–32, ed. P. Kelley and R. Hudson (1969)
- R. A. Barrett, The Barretts of Jamaica: the family of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (2000)
- D. Mermin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning: the origins of a new poetry (1989)
- J. Marks, The family of the Barrett: a colonial romance (1938)
- J. Markus, Dared and done: the marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning (1995)
- M. Stone, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1995)
- M. Forster, Elizabeth Barrett Browning: a biography (1988)
- L. M. Lewis, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's spiritual progress: face to face with God (1998)
- C. Kaplan, ‘Introduction’, in E. B. Browning, Aurora Leigh (1978)
- G. Taplin, The life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1957)
- D. Karlin, The courtship of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett (1985)
- M. Reynolds, notes and introduction, in E. B. Browning, Aurora Leigh (1992)
- E. B. Browning, Hitherto unpublished poems and stories, ed. H. Buxton Forman, 2 vols. (1914)
- A. Hayter, Mrs Browning: a poet's work and its setting (1962)
- G. Stephenson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the poetry of love (1989)
- P. Kelley and B. Coley, The Browning collections: a reconstruction with other memorabilia (1984)
- S. Donaldson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning: an annotated bibliography of commentary and criticism, 1826–1990 (1993)
- W. Barnes, A bibliography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1967)
- The Athenaeum (6 July 1861)
- British Quarterly Review, 34 (Oct 1861)
- EdinR, 114 (Oct 1861)
- Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 23 (Sept 1861)
- North American Review, 94 (April 1862)
- North British Review, 36 (May 1862)
- Saturday Review, 12 (13 July 1861)
- M. H. Shackford, ‘The authorship of “Aeschylus' soliloquy”’, The Times, literary suppl. (21 March 1842)
- G. D. Hobson, ‘“Aeschylus's soliloquy”’, The Times, literary suppl. (11 April 1842)
- I. Jack, ‘Browning translations’, TLS (31 July 1987)
- private information (2004) [P. Kelley]
- Baylor University, Waco, Texas, Armstrong Browning Library, D 802
- ‘Poems and sonnets’ note book, Yale U.
- Baylor University, Waco, Texas, Armstrong Browning Library
- BL, address book, Ashley 5718
- BL, letters and literary MSS, Add. MSS 42227–42231, 43487, 60391, 60574–60575
- Boston PL, corresp., literary MSS, and papers
- Eton, Barrett Browning collection
- FM Cam., personal and family corresp.
- Hunt. L., letters and literary MSS
- Morgan L., letters and literary MSS
- NRA, priv. coll., corresp.
- Ransom HRC, letters and literary MSS
- Wellesley College, Massachusetts, corresp., literary MSS, and papers
- Yale U., Beinecke L., papers
- BL, letters to Robert Browning and others, Ashley 2522
- BL, letters to Richard Henry Horne, MS Facs Suppl X
- BL, letters to John Kenyon, RP2087
- BL, letters to Mary Eliza Minto, Add. MS 41323
- BL, letters to Thomas Westwood, Add. MS 40689
- Herts. ALS, corresp. with Lord Lytton
- Morgan L., letters to George Moulton Barrett; letters to Richard Hengist Horne
- NYPL, Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, letters and literary MSS
- University of Chicago Library, corresp. with Bryan Procter and Anne Procter
- crayon drawing, 1820, Wellesley College, Massachusetts
- M. Moulton-Barrett, slightly tinted pencil drawing, 1821, repro. in Kelley and Coley, eds., Browning collections, 1, facing p. 132
- W. M. Thackeray, drawing, 1845, Hunt. L.
- T. B. Read, oils, 1853, Hist. Soc. Penn.
- M. Gordigiani, oils, 1858, NPG; repro. in Forster, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, cover
- R. Lehmann, pencil drawing, 1859, BM
- F. Talfourd, chalk drawing, 1859, NPG [see illus.]
- Alessandri, photograph, 1861, Baylor University, Waco, Texas, Armstrong Browning Library; repro. in Markus, Dared and done, 329
- Alessandri, photograph, 1861, Wellesley College, Massachusetts; repro. in Markus, Dared and done, 327
- W. W. Story, posthumous bust, 1861, Keats and Shelley Memorial Museum, Rome
- T. O. Barlow, line and stipple (after photograph by Macaire of Le Havre, 1858), BM
- J. Brown, stipple (as a child; after Mayou), BM
- G. Cook, line and stipple (aged nine; after C. Hayter), BM
- photograph, U. Texas, Gernsheim collection
- stipple prints, repro. in E. B. Browning, Poetical works (1889–90), vols. 1, 2, 3