The Brownings differed in their education: whereas Elizabeth Barrett (Robert Browning's senior by six years) was born near Durham and was brought up rurally before moving to London in 1836, he was a Londoner who traveled abroad from his youth. They first met by reading each other's poetic works.
Elizabeth Barrett was an invalid from the age of fifteen. She lived almost as a recluse because of ill health, attendance on her aging father, and the impression caused by the death of her brother by drowning. She published poetry and read Browning's verse.
Born in London of a very religious Congregational mother, Robert Browning later read Shelley on atheism, but his thought remained imbued with religious concerns: this accounts for the philosophical questioning in his poetry. He visited Italy several times in his youth, and it became part of his culture. His early poetry was self-confessional and was criticized for being too personal; he then resorted to the device of literary personas, many of whom were Italian historical figures, such as the character of Sordello (1840, written after his first visit to Italy in 1838). He read Elizabeth Barrett's poetry in 1845 and wrote to her, “I love your verse.”
They had to marry secretly in 1846 and escape to Italy since, though she had been advised by doctors to go to southern countries for her health, her father forbade her to leave him. For most of their stay in Italy they lived in Florence, in Casa Guidi in the Oltrarno, where their son was born in 1849. They made trips to various places (Vallombrosa, Rimini, Siena, Venice, Rome), as well as journeys to Paris and London. Browning pursued his interests in music and played on the organ in Vallombrosa, which Milton had played before. They were both interested in Italian politics since this was the period of unification, and they attempted to attract the interest of the British public to the Risorgi-