1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 667.



Miss Barrett was born in London in 1809, married Robert Browning, the poet, in 1846, and died at Florence in 1861. Her father was a wealthy London merchant, and she had the advantage of a superior education. She began to write both in prose and verse at the age of ten, and at seventeen published a volume of poems. In 1833 appeared her translation of the Prometheus Bound of Aeschylus. In 1838 she put forth The Seraphim, and other Poems, which was followed by The Romaunt of the Page, 1839. About this time the breaking of a blood-vessel kept her for some years a prisoner to her room. In 1844 she sent forth a collected edition of her poems in two volumes. In 1850 and 1853 new editions appeared. In 1851 she published Case Guidi Windows, a poem which reviews the state of Italy. In 1856 Aurora Leigh, the longest of her poems, appeared. It is rather a novel in blank verse than a poem, and is of very unequal merit. In 1860 Poems before Congress were published — suggested by the political events of the time. This was the last work from her pen. Her delicate constitution gave way, and, to the grief of a large circle of friends and admirers of her genius, she died. Her remains were interred in the Protestant cemetery at Florence. All her works show intellectual power of the highest order, and will compare favorably with the best productions of masculine genius. She was a Spiritualist in the modern sense of the word, having satisfied herself of the genuineness of certain phenomena, which were sufficient for her convictions as to spiritual realities. "Such is the influence of her manners," wrote Miss Mitford, "that those who knew her best are apt to lose sight of her learning and her genius, and to think of her only as the most charming person that they have ever met."