The Book of Sonnet Sequences

By Houston Peterson | Go to book overview

VI -- ELIZABETH BARRETT
BROWNING [1806-1861]

AT THE age of thirty-nine Elizabeth Barrett was an invalid, wasting away in a gloomy house ruled over by a tyrannical father. She had been a very precocious child and at the age of thirteen saw printed her "epic in four books" on the battle of Marathon. Later she plunged deeply into Greek, Latin, and philosophy, became the friend of scholars and published three volumes of poems which placed her in the front rank of living poets and were especially noteworthy in so arid a decade, between the passing of the old giants and the coming of the new. She had had an intensely full intellectual life, certainly, but far too circumscribed, and permanently saddened by the drowning of her beloved brother. As her spinal injury seemed to be beyond recovery, she could only look forward to indefinite years in that dimly-lit room, where a few visitors were permitted to come and where her two intimidated sisters took refuge from the Argus eyes of their fanatically austere parent.

Early in 1845 she received a letter in praise of her recently published volumes of poems from Robert Browning whose fame, chiefly based on Pauline, Paracelsus and Sordello, had not yet spread beyond the select literary circles. But Miss Barrett knew his work and admired it in spite of the difficult obscurities. To her friend Mrs. Martin she wrote: "I had a letter from Browning the poet last night, which threw me in ecstasies -- Browning, the author of 'Paracelsus' and king of the mystics." And within a week: "Well, then, I am getting deeper and deeper into correspondence with Robert Browning, poet and mystic, and we are growing to be the truest of friends. If I live a little longer shut up in this room, I shall certainly know every

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