Marianne S. L'Heureux Fine Art

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elizabeth barrett browning  

(1806-1861) English-Creole Poet “How Shall I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways.”

A recent book by Julia Markus about Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861 an English poet of the Victorian Era) explores her family tree. Born in County Durham, the eldest of 12 children, her father was born to a planter family who had been in Jamaica for four generations.

Love conquers all.  569 Love Letters – Number 43 “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”.

The book looks at evidence for Elizabeth’s grandfather being Creole and Elizabeth’s father being terrified that the British society in which he lived after returning to England would find this fact out. Edward Barrett had been born into one of the richest plantations in Jamaica. It is well known that Elizabeth’s father forbade his 11 children to marry.  Without the marriage ban, there would have been no need for secrecy between Elizabeth and Robert — the very ingredient that made this love affair the stuff of legend.

Their correspondence, courtship and marriage were carried out in secret, for fear of her father’s disapproval. Following the wedding she was indeed disinherited by her father. The couple moved to Florence, Italy, in 1846, where she would live for the rest of her life.

“I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,” Robert summoned the courage to write first, on Jan. 10, 1845.  “I thank you, dear Mr. Browning,” she responded in the following day’s mail. “Such a letter from such a hand!” In the 568 letters that followed, she would become his “moon of poets” and the “light of (his) soul” as they embarked together toward “the C Major of life.”

Elizabeth campaigned for the abolition of slavery and her work helped influence reform in the child labor legislation.  Her prolific output made her a rival to Tennyson as a candidate for poet laureate on the death of Wordswoth.